Farming the “data”

A move towards a totally mechanised poultry sector is becoming increasingly attractive to break the chain of inefficiencies and increase the return from expensive feed and capital-intensive resources. Sensors will inform artificial intelligence (AI) to take pragmatic decisions and AI will in turn instruct robots to do the needful tasks both economically and efficiently…

World Meat & Egg Consumption

World meat consumption forecasts are expected to average over 36.3kg per capita by 2023, an increase of 2.4kg compared with 2013. Some 72% of this increase will come from poultry. Egg consumption continues to grow also, due to their nutritional value and high level of versatility. In addition, eggs are finding their way in innovative pharmaceutical and sport nutrition food products.

Management Shift

Progressive chicken producers know the average weight of birds, average feed, average water consumption and a couple of other “averages”. Egg producers are marginally better in having a daily data egg production average for a group of birds, but managing by averages makes the entire production process potentially inefficient and misaligned.

The emerging “Topical Three” technologies as depicted in figure 1 will soon allow poultry producers to shift away from the management of “averages” to one with increased accuracy, range and representation of real time information, gathered across the supply chain – from flock to stock on the supermarket shelf.

This will result in improved visibility across a complex supply chain, resulting in improved physical and financial KPI’s.

Internet of Things

The all-smart technology encompassing the Internet of Things (IoT) is an inter-connected network of -devices, vehicles, appliances – embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity, and computer capability enabling these objects to collect, exchange, and act on data, – usually without human intervention.

Sensor technology is easy to install and experiences less resistance due to lower implementation costs and because benefits are immediately recognised. Big Dutchman’s DOL 53 is a sensor designed to measure ammonia, a common problem in many poultry houses. Also, climate in poultry houses influences the wellbeing of birds, feedutilisation and optimal performance. Respiratory, digestive and behavioural disorders are more likely to occur in houses in which the climatic conditions are not maintained constantly. SKOV and Filipino Poultry use novel sensors to regulate and control the climate in the house, including ventilation and temperature.

Figure 1: The Topical Three


Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Software algorithms are automating complex decision-making programmes to mimic the human thought processes and senses. AI is basically a computer program that can teach itself to learn, understand, reason, plan and act when blasted with data.

Vital Farms teamed up with Israeli technology giant Novatrans to create Ovabrite to save 7 billion male chick culls every year and create significant cost savings for the layer industry. Because male chicks of egg laying breeds do not produce enough meat, they are culled by maceration. Ovabrite’s Tera Egg detects gender and fertility in the chicken embryo, enabling layer farms to remove male and infertile eggs before they enter incubation, so these eggs can be redirected for human consumption rather than hatched chicks being culled post-incubation.


Robots are machines with enhanced sensing, control, and intelligence used to automate, augment, or assist human activities.

Poultry houses require nearly constant attention: cleaning and sanitising, collecting eggs and checking birds. This is time-consuming, monotonous work which robots can do more precisely, thoroughly and honestly compared to their human counterparts. Robots can also help in flock management. If robots detect an ill bird, farm management can be alerted, and the birds removed immediately, or the flock treated. Therefore, these automations will reduce or help to contain disease outbreaks, such as bird flu and foodborne illnesses, improving the safety of the entire supply chain.

The Synergy of Sensors, AI and Robots

Recent research in the US shows that 76% of chicken deboning industry employees had some level of damage to the nerves in their hands, while 34% showed signs of carpal tunnel syndrome. Automating a procedure such as chicken deboning requires precise recognition of the shape and size of each chicken and individual body structures. Artificial intelligence technology programs can easily analyse the difference in density and structure of meat versus bone, thereby making the most precise cut possible as depicted in figure 2. This is an epitome of combined technologies interplaying at the same time: robots perform the work that AI instructs them to do informed and aided by data that sensors collect.

Figure 2: SINTEF Gribbot can debone a chicken in about three seconds, replacing up to 30 human operators creating economies of efficiency

Source: SINTEF


The collection, analysis and dissemination of data within intensive farming systems and complex supply chains, such as the poultry value chain, present enormous opportunities for all stakeholders. It can make measurable improvements to animal welfare and husbandry, improve the use and application of expensive inputs and benefit not only profits but consumers through providing safer and more consistent food standards.

When, more than 75% of global CEO’s believe that technology will transform their business in the nextfew years, it is wise to understand how technological advancements in data collection and mining cancontribute to sustainable operational and financial improvements in your business.

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