How robots can improve efficiency in poultry production

Robots in the poultry house can monitor welfare, health and the environment parameters in the house during production. The devices free up human workers for other tasks and convert real-time data about a poultry flock into actionable insights for farmers.

In addition, robots offer intangible benefits to poultry farmers – from welfare to biosecurity.

Mortality recovery robots

A poultry mortality recovery robot uses sensors, a neural network and computer vision to learn how to recognize when a bird is deceased and needs to be retrieved.

The robot performs the recovery sequence four times a day, taking a different route through the poultry house each time. Once a sequence is completed, the robot returns to its charging station to power up.

“It’s an opportunity to help the grower grow chickens easier,” Dusty Reynolds, founder of Birds Eye Robotics, said. “If they can spend a little bit less time picking up dead birds with the robot, it opens up the door for them to spend time on what they want to focus on.”

In the future, this technology could map out where the birds died, providing insights farmers and veterinarians can use to evaluate trends and make quicker mortality diagnoses.

“We’re really fortunate because, with the technology we’ve had, we’re able to move the birds in a really gentle way. We’re now capable of being able to say what else can we be doing at the bird’s eye level?” said Reynolds.

“To be able to gather more information helps the producer makes decision quicker. The first entry point for us is doing the hard work of picking up the dead birds and the next is capitalizing on the eyes, the ears of the human picking up those birds, just using the robot as a medium.”

Ceiling-suspended robots

Ceiling-mounted robots, riding on rails attached to the ceiling of a broiler house, collect and share data and insights on the welfare, behavior and health status of the birds.

“One of the benefits that we find from the ceiling-mounted robot is that it’s traveling a defined track,” Scott Becker, Cumberland's director of North America sales said. “You’re not going to get an area where you get stuck in litter or get knocked over or enter into an obstacle.”

The device runs along a track mounted every six to eight feet along the barn, making six to eight continuous loops per day.

“This gives you an opportunity to experience different points of time throughout the day and different activity levels of the animals,” Becker said.

Thermal sensors on the robot and artificial intelligence track environmental parameters, such as air quality, thermal sensation, light and sound, and identify potential risks to poultry health and welfare, as well as farm equipment.

Becker stresses robots help with poultry welfare, too. People entering a house to conduct welfare checks can cause stress reactions in the broilers. However, a robot is in the house constantly, allowing the birds to demonstrate more natural behaviors. A robot may more accurately, and quickly, detect changes in bird calls, activity and other behaviors.

Tests of the ceiling-suspended robotic technology are underway in Europe. Cumberland plans to expand trials into the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2022.

“It can provide a lot of information that we didn’t know before,” Becker said. “The more level of detail we get, the more we’re learning and the better of we’ll become. There’s knowledge in power and this provides us an awful lot of things to know.”

Roving robots

Broiler production is highly labor-intensive. Workers assess equipment, as well as bird health and welfare, and collect dead birds daily. At breeder facilities, farmers need to train birds where nests are located and pick up floor eggs.

A roving robot could perform many of these tasks, reducing the need for farmers to enter the houses directly, according to Colin Usher, senior research scientist and interim branch chief for the robotics branch in the Intelligent Sustainable Technologies Division at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

“Our general idea is how can we get these machines to try to hopefully lighten the load and provide better management tools for the people that have to operate poultry facilities,” he said.

For example, when it comes time to train broiler breeders where their nests are located, a robot could drive around the floor, identify chickens and push them toward the walls. In addition, this discourages floor eggs, training the birds to only lay their eggs in the nests.

“When we started looking at robots, it quickly moved away from being just a sensing system to something that can manipulate the environment,” Usher noted.

Monitoring robots can improve biosecurity and prevent disease outbreaks from spreading between poultry houses. Today’s robots feature a suite of sophisticated sensors, 2D and 3D cameras and even an automated arm for mortality tasks and picking up floor eggs. This means fewer people enter each broiler house, reducing cross-contamination.

Environmental monitoring capabilities track changes to the microclimate of the broiler house, including temperature, humidity, gas concentration and light levels.

Sensors help the robot map out floor areas and generate smart paths for navigating throughout the entire house. The sensors also detect birds in their path, giving gentle nudges at first to encourage movement or telling the robot to circle around a bird refusing to budge.

Par : Elizabeth Doughman (04/04/2022)

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Photo : AGCO (tirée de l'article original)