Monitoring the activity of individual broilers can be challenging. Especially when the animals are housed in groups of thousands of birds. But it is precisely the individual activity level that can be a valuable indication of the health, welfare and performance of the animals. Scientists from Wageningen University & Research have succeeded in following broilers with a tag on their leg through the pen. This could record the activity level of individual broilers throughout their life.
A new tracking system
“You can compare the system with mobile apps such as Strava or Runkeeper,” says researcher Malou van der Sluis. “When you go for a run, the app registers the time, your location and thus the distance traveled. This allows you to show how active you have been. Our broilers are now doing the same. ”
Broilers were fitted with a small, lightweight radio frequency identification (RFID) tag on the leg from the day of hatching. The cage in which the animals were housed was equipped with a grid of RFID antennas under the floor. This RFID system allowed continuous tracking of the location of broilers in the pen.
Van der Sluis: “We can now estimate the level of activity of an individual broiler. That is valuable information for the farmer. This allows him to obtain detailed individual data on the location and activity of broilers throughout their life. This data can help assess - and perhaps even predict - the health, welfare and performance of broilers. Such data can also possibly be implemented in breeding programs.
However, it will take a while before the first 'antenna floor' is on the market. Equipping a complete barn with a system with as much detail as this system is difficult and expensive. A setup with less detail, for example using fewer antenna grid cells, might be better suited for use on a larger scale. An alternative approach, aimed at measuring activity at group level, can also be of valuable support for commercial broiler farmers, providing them with information about changes in group activity or the distribution of chickens in the house. ”
Validation of the system
To validate the RFID system, top-view video footage of the cage was taken to assess both the location of the birds over time and the individual distances moved. A comparison between RFID and video showed that in 62.5% of the cases the location on video and from the RFID data matched completely, ie the bird was positioned in the same grid cell in both observations. When a deviation from one adjacent antenna grid cell was taken into account, this increased to 99.2%. The distances calculated from the RFID data and as scored on video showed a strong rank correlation (rs = 0.82).
This was a joint study by WUR and Utrecht University, in collaboration with Cobb Europe and Breed4Food , and was recently published in the scientific journal Sensors .