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Improving Animal Health and Welfare

10 September 2012, at 8:50am

US - As part of an effort to sustain innovation in poultry production and processing, six continuation projects are focused on novel types of engineering and technology research activities that address critical issues facing poultry production from the growout house to the processing plant, says Dr Doug Britton, manager of the Agricultural Technology Research Program (ATRP), Georgia Research Tech Institute. Here he discusses improving animal health and welfare.

Reliable sensors to monitor the condition and welfare of birds being reared in confined housing are not readily available. The goal of ATRP’s Growout Monitoring project is to investigate the use of bird vocalizations to determine whether or not they are under stress due to environmental conditions or disease.

In collaboration with fellow researchers at Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, the ATRP project team has developed an experimental monitoring system. The system has been installed at UGA’s Poultry Science research growout facilities where several studies have been conducted. First, the team studied environmental effects such as temperature, ammonia, and crowding.

Results showed that features extracted from bird vocalizations strongly correlated with higher ambient room temperatures and the presence of ammonia. The correlations for crowding were not as strong. Second, the team explored the effects of disease. Two experiments were conducted at the Poultry Disease Research Center (PDRC) in Athens, Georgia, which investigated the effects of Infectious Bronchitis and Laryngotracheitis (LT) in broilers.

In both experiments, it appeared that features of the vocalizations could be extracted that strongly correlate with the progress of both diseases. Moving forward, the team will attempt to replicate these studies and improve the existing algorithms and tools to enhance the extraction and classification features used to assess bird welfare.

Under the Chicken Egg Fertility Detection project, ATRP researchers together with colleagues at Auburn University have developed a noninvasive and rapid spectrophotometric technique to track the changing embryo in-ovo or inside the egg. This method allows researchers to predict when individual eggs will hatch, which in turn, should provide insight into a number of practices from animal health and welfare to the inoculation regime. Hatchability experiments were recently conducted where eggs were taken all the way to hatch and spectral readings were recorded at approximately the same time daily for 21 days. Different temperatures, humidity levels, and with/without egg turning were examined. Analysis of the spectral data showed fertile, developing eggs changed at a greater rate than infertile eggs.

A number of eggs were removed from the process and placed at a lower temperature to determine if the spectral changes continued. The previously observed spectral changes slowed significantly for the cooled eggs. The results showed that at a very early point spectral data indicates the rate of embryonic development for each egg if the hatchery is running consistently. Currently, the team is expanding the study to investigate whether the spectrophotometric technique can be used to determine the sex of the embryo. This has productivity value as males could be selected for broiler production and females for layer production. It also has animal welfare implications in that male layer chicks would not have to be disposed of since they would not be hatched.