Apr14

Smartphone app watches out for chicken welfare

Researchers are aiming to improve the welfare of chickens by enabling farmers to manage their flocks more efficiently using a smartphone app.

Some 58 billion chickens each year are used in food production and to enable chicken meat to be cheap and easily available, they can be kept in large flocks of up to 50,000 birds. These chickens are bred to put on weight very rapidly so that they can reach a slaughter weight in just 35 days. These methods that have increase food production have brought with them welfare problems for the birds – such as a tendency to lameness and cardiovascular diseases – which BBSRC-funded scientists from The University of Oxford are hoping to address.

Scientists have been developing a system that constantly monitors the welfare of chickens throughout their lives. It works on smartphones placed inside chicken houses, using the phones’ built in cameras to monitor the movement of bird flocks (see video). By measuring the optical flow (rate of change in image brightness) patterns, the app picks out flocks with unusual movement and predicts welfare problems days or even weeks before these become serious, thus allowing the farmer to intervene. 

Video credit: Marian Dawkins and Tom Nickson from the University of Oxford

For more BBSRC news visit: http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/news/news-index.aspx

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