Poultry. Its what’s for dinner. At least in about 6 Billion households. The majority of the human race eats yard bird. An even larger group eat their eggs. After all, as we have been reminded often, it’s the perfect food.
How can robot’s help?
First – what are the problems? Lack of growth in the market is the main issue. In a recent posts on medium Usha states:
Poultry farming reported 1% growth in production for the year 2018. Digital technologies are rising to help farmers achieve efficiency. The only question is how soon it happens.
So if the market is growing at such a slow rate, how can farmers survive? Can robots make up for the slow growth?
In an article on Robotics in the Poultry industry, it mentioned a number of ways that Robots are helping creating a better product and cutting costs.
…in the modern egg industry, robots are commonplace. Amongst other tasks, robots feed the birds, transport, handle and pack eggs and manage shed ventilation. In the chicken meat processing sector, robots perform tasks such as automatic transfer of carcasses and detection of defective carcasses. The utilisation of robots is expected to increase in the future as other capabilities are developed that improve the ability to remotely monitor birds.
This last point is very important. The ability to remotely monitor the birds is critical. So what ways need to be developed to monitor? In a separate piece it was noted how we should be measuring these birds:
What would make for better poultry production?
- From a production standpoint, individual real-time body weights, feed and water consumption.
- From a husbandry and welfare perspective, knowing the stress levels in the bird and bird comfort assessed through body temperatures and air quality factors, such as carbon dioxide and ammonia.
- From a disease management outlook, the ability to spot disease or find morbid birds before the entire flock is affected.
- From a food safety perspective, enhanced Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli detection.
- From a food processing perspective, increased yield.
Once we know what the birds are doing via measurement, we can optimize yield. As PoultryHub.org points out:
A key question is ‘What parameters can be measured (remotely/wirelessly) that reliably inform us of the animals’ internal health, welfare and production states?’. Following that, there are likely to be challenges around computer capability. Coping with the massive input of data may be problematic, especially if the monitoring systems provide a continuous stream of real-time information. It is likely that robots won’t be able to monitor all birds, so attention will need to be focussed on sentinel birds
So once we have all these measurements of chickens what next? What are the solutions that are being proposed?
The GOHBot from Georgia Tech!
The researcher’s over at Georgia Tech have developed a robot to autonomously operate in a poultry grow-out house.
…a commercially available ground robot outfitted with 2D and 3D sensors and cameras. Nicknamed GOHBot, the Growout House Robot was initially manually operated in an experimental growout house at the University of Georgia (UGA) to establish the feasibility of operating robots in poultry houses. Results of this testing showed there to be no negative impact on the birds due to robotic systems operating in the flocks.
“Interestingly, it appears that the birds were even more comfortable with the GOHBot than with humans,” says Usher.
Presumably that last point made by Dr. Usher was because the robots don’t plan on eating the birds later that day.
Here is how they describe the bot.
Gohbot is an automated mobile robot capable of navigating intelligently in a commercial poultry house to interact with the birds and carry out utility tasks such as the automatic removal of floor eggs. It uses artificial intelligence routines and a suite of sensors, including 2D and 3D imagers, in combination with infrastructure to navigate inside commercial chicken houses. AI routines allow for characterizing chickens, equipment and locating eggs on the floor.
“We envision a robot that ‘lives’ in the poultry housing facilities and works around the clock both evaluating the status of the flocks and removing floor eggs and/or mortality,” said the developers at GTRI.
The ChickenBoy ..
Another solution that is being proposed in the grow-out house environment is Chickenboy.
The ceiling-mounted ChickenBoy autonomous robot runs on simple rails through the chicken house to monitor management issues, including the detection of health issues, localization of dead birds, detection of bedding problems and measurement of ambient conditions.
Users access dashboards with this information through a cloud-based platform:
- Farmers use the information to improve animal welfare and productivity.
- Vertically integrated companies are able to better monitor growing conditions.
- Veterinarians and consultants improve their services with more and faster data from farms.
- Researchers and product developers access data to test and develop new sensors and algorithms in third-party extension modules.
The company is working to develop the mechanical removal of dead birds.
A now a word from the chickens
As noted above, many researchers feel the chickens are more comfortable around that robots that around people, motives aside.
That being said – is there an upside for the chickens in all this?
As Usha points out, Drones can be used to herd free roaming birds:
Although there is concern that drones could make flock nervous and stress, yet it is a better solution for free-range or yard farms where birds are allowed to roam freely. They work as nannies for these domestic fowls.
This obviously creates a much better life for chickens that can live in a more natural environment. Usda and Heiner Lehr predict even further advances over the next 20 years that include:
- Observe chickens and provide advice to farmers for best rearing
- Determine most or all of the key performance indicators on the farm
- Collect stray eggs and dead birds and perhaps even bring severely ill birds to a hospital area on the farm
- Contribute to intelligent, individualized and fully automatic management of climate, water and feed
- Training models to detect nutritional deficiencies in chicks.
- Training models to detect Behavioural diseases like cannibalism (or aggressive pecking).
“Our ultimate goal with the GOHBot is to completely eliminate, or at least, vastly minimize the need for farmers and farm hands to enter their growout houses,” says Usher. “This not only reduces labor, but could also reduce the incidence of contamination, whether chemical or biological, by minimizing the need for people to enter the houses.”
Presumably, robots could also extenquish any fires that would break out as well. No more would the chicken house be on fire. And maybe that’s not so bad.
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