ATLANTA, 01 February 2018 : Growth in poultry farming has been relentless, and rising to meet that growth are digital technologies that can offer producers an enormous efficiency advantage.
Aidan Connolly, chief innovation officer and vice president of corporate accounts at Alltech, presented “Flocking to Digital: The Future of Poultry Technology” to an audience of 250 people during the Alltech Annual Breakfast Meeting at the International Production & Processing Expo. Connolly’s presentation focused on innovation, the future of farming and disruptive digital technologies for the global poultry industry.
“In the next 30 years, we will see another 3 billion people inhabit the Earth and the middle class of urban dwellers will continue to rise, and poultry farmers must respond,” said Connolly. “Farmers must farm data and harness new digital technologies and respond to the growing requirements of prosumers.”
In the recently released 2018 Alltech Global Feed Survey, results estimated broiler feed and layer feed segments at 28 percent and 13 percent, respectively, combining for 41 percent in total, and represented the highest percentage of global feed production by species. Despite the continued preference for pork in Asia, current growth means that global chicken meat consumption will exceed that of pork by 2022. Egg consumption continues to grow as well because eggs are inexpensive, mild-tasting and easy to process for inclusion in other foods. Universal acceptance by almost all cultures and all religions ensures that poultry will continue to prosper.
Connolly discussed eight digital technologies that serve as a useful framework to describe novel technologies arriving in the marketplace that can help producers manage their flocks in a more efficient and sustainable way:
Poultry operations could benefit from the on-site printing of plastic or metal parts when they require replacing. 3D printing also has life-saving applications, such as reproducing feet, legs and even beaks.
Repetitive tasks such as cleaning and sanitizing facilities, collecting eggs and checking birds present opportunities for robots in the poultry industry. Robots are more precise and thorough about the work they do compared to their human counterparts. They could be used to prevent and control disease and infection in poultry houses and to evaluate environmental factors such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, ammonia, sound and brightness.
They may not have a place in chicken houses/barns, as the drone could make the flock nervous and cause undue stress. However, with free-range or yard-kept chickens and turkeys that roam fields freely, there would be a better application for drone technology, which could herd, protect and monitor them.
The easiest of the eight technologies to implement, sensors have lower costs and immediate benefits. They have been designed to measure ammonia, regulate and control ventilation and temperature, monitor carbon dioxide and control lighting for an environment that stimulates better growth efficiencies in birds and reduces costs.
Wearable sensors could allow researchers and farmers to gain insight into the health and well-being of broilers, layers, turkeys and ducks. Fitted with RFID tags, poultry could be observed in a more natural environment, giving researchers the opportunity to learn from the animals. This information could then be evaluated to determine everything from natural behaviors to inefficiencies in diet, greatly increasing the opportunity to help with production efficiencies.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI technologies have become the backbone of many other technologies. Robots, for example, use AI in the processing plant to improve efficiencies. Automating procedures such as chicken deboning require recognition of the shape and size of each chicken and individual adaptation. Artificial intelligence is the perfect technology for this application. By combining technologies, robots perform the work that AI instructs them to do based on the data that sensors collect.
Artificial intelligence can monitor and control the environment of the house. Sensors collect the information, software tracks it and AI adjusts the conditions of the house or alerts the farmer if there is a potential issue, such as an ill bird. All of this information can then be transferred to the farmer’s smartphone or tablet.
Augmented reality (AR)
Augmented, or enhanced, reality is the ability to see things that the human eye cannot, using the non-visible spectrums of light, or to overlay information, including data interpretation, alongside what the person sees. The possible uses of the technology are wide-ranging, such as in processing plants, where AR allows trimmers in factories to see how to cut the chicken carcass and accurately remove defective parts of the meat.
In addition to the benefits for farmers and processors, AR can be used with consumers in mind, as transparency is becoming an increasingly critical concern and AR offers the ability to know where and how food is produced. Smartphone apps can be created with augmented reality to allow consumers to scan a code on the egg carton and download detailed information on where the eggs came from as well as information relating to the welfare conditions of the birds.
Virtual reality (VR)
The most obvious application for VR in the poultry industry is training, particularly processing. It could teach line workers in the processing plant the ideal way to trim meat from birds. Applied to free-range layer houses, it could teach employees how to walk through the house without frightening the birds, find errant eggs and check on hens.
An eccentric option is to provide the virtual reality experience to the chickens, allowing them to enjoy the free-range experience while remaining contained within the safety of the poultry house
The opportunity for blockchain in the poultry industry centers around its ability to resolve food safety and transparency issues. Large food retailers are working with IBM using blockchain technology to secure digital records and monitor supply chain management, ensuring the traceability of the poultry products sold in stores. Blockchain can be used to monitor all aspects of the food supply chain, from farmers and producers to processors and distributors.
“It is estimated that world poultry production will increase 120 percent from 2010 to 2050, and in order to meet this demand, feed conversion ratios and other production efficiencies must continue to improve,” said Connolly. “The incorporation of digital technologies, such as those listed above, will greatly aid in these efficiencies and help poultry producers to rise to the demands and meet the increasing needs of a global population.”
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