People: Theo Demmers, Imelda McGonnell, Siobhan Abeyesinghe, Isabelle Dennis, Christine Nicol

In a project led by Theo Demmers, we are working with Applied Poultry, Ross Robotics and Harper Adams  to assess feasibility of a multifunctional autonomous robotic system. ‘Robochick’ for collecting key data within a poultry shed to support state of the art monitoring and management of poultry including early intervention. 

Christine Nicol is collaborating with  Maja Makagon, University of Davis, California on “Smart Farming - Monitoring the Health of Chickens’ . The aim of this project is to develop and and validate small, bird mounted acoustic sensors and complementary analysis systems for monitoring changes ‘in the health, welfare and locations of individual birds housed in commercial flocks.

Justine Pearce is conducting a PhD on ‘Developing AI-enhanced continuous monitoring of individual locomotor dynamics to detect shifts in poultry behaviour, health and welfare in group housing

A previous BioBusiness project aimed to train 11 young scientist in Research, Product Development, Marketing and Sales in the Bio-Business sector.  Three groups worked on potential new products for the pig, poultry and cow sector with world leading companies in their sector. The focus of the poultry group (RVC, ANSES, KU Leuven and Petersime) is on improving conditions for incubating eggs through better understanding of the relationship between the egg’s environment and the embryonic development through optimising the incubation conditions.

The specific aim was to shorten and delay the hatch window, i.e. the time lapsed from the first chick hatching to the majority of chicks hatched, thus potentially improving the welfare and quality of the day old chick. Currently the time between hatching of the egg and placement of the day-old-chick on the farm can be up to 72 hours during which the chick goes without food and water, relying entirely on its yolk sack, potentially affecting its welfare and quality.

Traditional incubation (dark, steady state temperature) is being replaced by “Embrio-Response   Incubation” where PLF sensors detect embryo development. For instance, Synchro-Hatch Technology (Petersime bv) detects the start and length of the hatch window.  Introducing a more natural environment by adding sound or light for instance, triggers an embryo response that may or may not improve embryo and/or day old chick welfare and quality. By adding “natural” sound, i.e. mother hen and chick sounds or variable light conditions to the incubator, the embryo development might be affected. Various parameters were measured to determine the embryonic development throughout the incubation period.

New technology was implemented to enable the detection of phases of the embryonic development and samples taken during the incubation to provide a gold standard for embryonic development. Potential improvements to the incubator environment have been identified but need further research and development to a product that can be implemented by the industrial partner Petersime.

Further reading:

TONG, Q., ROMANINI, C. E., EXADAKTYLOS, V., BAHR, C., BERCKMANS, D., BERGOUG, H., ETERRADOSSI, N., ROULSTON, N., VERHELST, R., MCGONNELL, I. M. & DEMMERS, T. 2013. Embryonic development and the physiological factors that coordinate hatching in domestic chickens. Poultry Science, 92, 620-628.

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