Software predicts poultry disease before it happens

High-tech management tools are nearing the point at which they might predict broiler disease “days or even weeks” before it is established, a recent Royal Veterinary College conference heard.

Prof Marian Dawkins, a researcher in animal behaviour at the University of Oxford, said modelling software had successfully predicted key welfare outcomes such as hock burn, gait score and even mortality way in advance.

“Current assessments of welfare in broilers tend to be post-mortem,” she told the RVC’s Chicken of the Future symposium. “Occasionally we have gait scoring commercially, but there is a vast area where we don’t monitor the welfare, and obviously post-mortem is too late for the bird. Our aim is to fill that gap.”

Prof Dawkins’ team has developed a system which measures the “optical flow” of broilers in a shed. A grid is superimposed over the camera image, allowing the direction and magnitude of flock movement to be quantified.

These measurements are then compared with flocks that developed problems, and those which grew to full weight healthily.

It is hoped the device, which is still in development, will become a “simple warning system” that will alert farmers to potential problems before they develop. “I see it as a flock management tool, something that is actually going to help people have healthier flocks,” said Prof Dawkins, suggesting it could be commercially available within three years.

Better welfare and lower mortality were closely linked to better economic returns, she added.

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