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Dr. Theo Demmers joins our R&D team

We are delighted to welcome Dr. Theo Demmers of the Royal Veterinary College to our Research & Development team. 

Theo graduated from Wageningen Agricultural University (WUR, Netherlands) with a degree (Dr Ing) in Environmental Science in 1987. He then spent 5 years working at the Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering (IMAG-DLO) in the Netherlands on gaseous emission (ammonia) reduction technologies from livestock before joining Silsoe Research Institute in 1993 as a Researcher. He completed a part-time PhD from Nottingham University in 1997. He moved to the RVC with the Animal Welfare Science and Ethics group as a Senior Research Fellow. Forming part of the centre of animal welfare, focusing on environmental factors affecting pig and poultry welfare and behaviour.

Theo is a founder member on the committee of the European Association for Precision Livestock Farming (EA-PLF).

Can we help with your next project?

Our R&D team are currently working on a joint global project for monitoring the health and welfare of broilers and layers. Developing autonomous robotics with camera systems, environmental sensors, and novel health sensors looking for particular diseases. Then we are on to another which involves looking at automated welfare scoring in broilers using camera systems and artificial intelligence.

If you are looking for support in developing your next project with our on-farm trials and combined insights then talk to our team.

Welcome Lizzie Brass

We are delighted to welcome our Data Analyst intern Lizzie to the OPTIfarm family while currently attending Newcastle University, specialising in Animal Production Science.

Lizzie Brass

Lizzie has always been passionate about poultry, growing up on a family farm in Cumbria where her parents keep commercial laying hens, organic and free-range. 

“Some of my first memories are out in the fields with the hens. Upon working in the family business my love for welfare became apparent.” Says Lizzie.

This drive is what led Lizzie to her previous commercial role in agricultural research for The Lakes Free Range Egg Company.

To further her knowledge, research skills and broaden her knowledge about the advancements in agriculture as a whole, university was naturally the next step.

“I don’t think anyone can deny that while we have some of the best welfare and agricultural practices in the world, British agriculture still has room for improvement! It’s an exciting prospect my generation faces.”

New experiences

Lizzies experience in the poultry industry is predominantly in the Laying Hen sector where she has worked throughout the whole supply chain.

“When I had the opportunity to leave my comfort zone and gain experience with broilers at OPTIfarm for the summer I jumped at the chance.”

Currently, she is getting to know the systems of retrieving client data, and then utilising it so our clients can make adjustments to improve the bird’s welfare at farm level.

“One of the biggest strengths that I’ve identified so far is that the real-time data collection can lead to the alteration of conditions in the broiler shed within the hour- a unique service offered by OPTIfarm.”

While Lizzie is a Data Analyst Intern, we believe it is a great opportunity to gain experience on the farm, so she can see the client’s perspective of OPTIfarm and how farmers can utilise the data we are collecting.

“I’ve been lucky to place chicks on various farms and worked my way through the brooding period. David and Raja identified for the best intern experience I should visit multiple different sites with unique setups and equipment.”

Lizzie has been a great addition to the team already, now heading into her first set of night shifts to truly experience our around-the-clock service. 

R&D Team

Getting to know Samantha

Sam is our Research & Development Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the food production industry.

She has hit the ground running this past year with varied roles involving running trials and research, looking at anything from nutritional products through to robotics and novel environmental sensors, all with the aim of improving health, welfare, and performance in the broiler industry
I did manage to grab her attention away from the robotics just long enough to ask her a few questions…
 

Where did your passion for livestock come from?

I Grew up on a small farm in Nottingham breeding fancy breed chickens and running a horse livery yard and as a riding instructor. So it started from an early age, I then went to Riseholme agricultural college in Lincolnshire, focusing my studies on livestock production. 

Did you then go on to university? What did you study?

I went to Harper Adams University to Study for a BSc Hons degree in Animal Health and Welfare. I completed my dissertation, receiving a 1st, in antibiotic use and biosecurity in pheasant farming. The degree studied a wide range of animal production systems and sciences from parasitology to genetics and reproduction to animal behaviour and welfare. 

Tell me more about your scholarship…

Whilst at Harper Adams I won a scholarship through the British Poultry Council and Faccenda foods (now Avara) and spent my placement year based in Yorkshire in the turkey business, mainly focussed on Christmas turkey production. This was a fantastic opportunity for me as I was able to see the whole business working with the breeding and parent farms, the hatchery, grow out farms and factory. This gave me a good insight into the poultry industry as a whole and helped direct me into a job in the poultry industry.  

What was the first step after graduation?

After graduating I joined Cherry Valley Farms as Technical support. Cherry Valley are responsible for providing high quality Duck genetics around the world and I was very fortunate to be able to travel to many countries to see the different production systems and offer advice and support.  

How have your experiences so far help you in your role today?

The range of studies has really helped in my role here, as we now have a system that focuses hugely on genetic performance and production results yet having huge pressures in maintaining and improving animal welfare and health.  

Find out in our next R&D Blog what areas we have been working on over the past year…

Operational Blindness

Operational Blindness

Operational blindness

If you are not looking for it. You won’t see it.

From our recent poll Inattentional Blindness was voted the No.1 reason why farmers are holding back from Precision Livestock Farming. Have you ever experienced it?

So, let’s start at the beginning. Inattentional blindness, also known as Operational blindness, is a psychological lack of attention that is not associated with any vision defects. It may be further defined as the event in which an individual fails to perceive an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight. You are so focused on one thing you completely miss the glaringly obvious fails in your poultry performance and welfare.

Research suggests that even the most experienced people are vulnerable to inattentional blindness.

Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in many farms and if not addressed can negatively impact your performance.

Do this sound familiar?

‘You are so focused on driving the ventilation by reading the numbers in the computer that you forget to read the birds’ 

 ‘You have been trying to prevent water spillage with lowering water pressure. You missed the birds fighting for drinker nipples because they don’t get enough water.’

Or maybe you fall into the category of overheating newly placed chicks. Most of the time farmers don’t realise this. 

operational inattentional blindness

How do we fall into this situation?

The same behaviours that are practised everyday, whether they are good or bad, set a precedent and lay down the norms within your farm for how “things” get done and how decisions get made.

If your aim is to eliminate operational blindness or to implement any other changes within your farm, in order to grow and develop, then bringing the Optifarm service on board is ideal to assist you with moving through this change process.

We help you cut through the clutter and assist you with defining your key goals and action plans. We are here to support your decisions and help you stay accountable to yourself and your farm. Optimising, sustaining and advancing poultry production & welfare, globally, through innovative 24/7 human and digital assessments.

Change is hard, why do it alone?

Farm Performance

Getting the most from your Farm Performance

It’s been a year since Aviagen has raised the bar for entry to its Ross Club, which recognises the top 1% of broiler growers in the UK. On July 1 2019 the Ross 400 Club became the Ross 420 Club, with the qualifying entry level raised to a European Performance Efficiency Factor (EPEF) of 420 and above.

How was your farm performance over the last year?

What do feel was holding you back? Growth rates management? Flock uniformity? Environmental sustainability? Data Analytics? 

Sometimes it can just come down to hours in the day. I’m sure you’ve all experienced days turning into nights and contemplated sleeping in the shed.

Getting the best performance on broiler farms is about understanding what is happening at any given point in real time, and adapting management to each shed individually.

The biggest shift in broiler performance is the use of computer systems to capture data – not just entire room analysis, but splitting sheds into smaller segments and making management decisions based on that data.

No two sheds are the same. No two flocks are the same. Recognising and acting on the small differences while being able to maintain other well-known practices really makes all the difference in performance results.

Optifarm helps the farmer to see changing performance indicators and their trends during the cycle. We are able to give situation specific advice based on vast experience, all acuminated in our unique custom decision tree. 

Optimising, sustaining and advancing poultry production & welfare, globally, through innovative 24/7 human and digital assessments

Auto Recognition

Chicken Farm Automation

There is a vast of increasingly tech savvy monitoring techniques in the modern broiler farm, like our Automated Visual Recognition!

We can create ground truth in real time with auto annotation, enabling us to see and read what each individual bird and the flock is telling us.

Using cameras enables us to see a variety of bird behaviours and this also helps us in monitoring things such as feed or water consumption, bird spread or shed temperature, humidity or airflow. It could also analyse feeder and drinker usage throughout the shed.

They all look at the bigger picture and give us some great insights but with these new advancements using ‘off the shelf’ cameras we get an insight like never before into poultry behaviour and activity.  

With this new advancement we are able to distinguish individual birds’ behaviours, plus other welfare indicators which we at OPTIfarm use to provide our welfare assessments. 

We asses animal welfare on the principles of the globally recognised Five Freedoms.

Clients at OPTIfarm we will soon be able to receive this new service along with other new innovations we are working on as part of our already successful 24/7 global farm optimisation.

 

How does image analysis this help you?

  • Improved feed conversion
  • Improved predictability of performance
  • Gives livestock the best possible conditions
  • Improves bird health and welfare
  • Improves flock uniformity
  • Pinpoint disparity from a range of management factors including temperature and ventilation.

Assessing multiple types of information for farm performance evaluation can be difficult, data plays a huge part in the modern broiler and having the back up of our globally successful real time optimisation service means you can be more hands-on.  Saving time and adding value.

Broiler Ventilation

Efficient ventilation for your poultry farms

How efficient is your ventilation? As our European clients head into summer and the outside temperature rises it is vital to health of your birds that the ventilation and temperature is monitored efficiently to reduce the risks from heat stressEffective ventilation is a crucial element to your broiler production and bird welfare. You shoulbe aiming to avoid putting undue stress on the birds with adequate ventilation and air exchange rates maintaining air quality and avoiding heat stress. 

 Aside from age of the bird the biggest influence on air quality inside the poultry house are the conditions outsideThe conditions the birds experience during the hot summer temperature must be controlled by the ventilation system whatever the conditions outside. However, it is not just about temperature regulation as the birds feel thermal comfort based on temperature, humidity and air flow rates, so all of these must be considered. 

Whichever ventilation system you are using it needs to not only ensures adequate air exchange throughout the poultry house, but also remove excess moisture from the litter, maintain oxygen levelsreduce carbon dioxide levels, and regulate temperature within the house. 

 As an example, in the UK the current guidelines are that each poultry house has a ventilation system that: 

  • keeps the concentration of ammonia (NH3) below 20 parts per million (ppm), measured at the level of the chickens’ heads 
  • keeps the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) below 3,000ppm, measured at the level of the chickens’ heads 
  • when the outside temperature measured in the shade is over 30C, the inside temperature is never more than 3C warmer 
  • keeps the average relative humidity inside the house over any 48 hour period below 70% when the outside temperature is below 10C 

 These are just the minimum requirements but at OPTIfarm we look at providing the best air quality and provide the best environment possible for bird welfare, health and production. 

 We monitor your equipment and analyse data collected on temperature and air quality. As we visit the farm every 90 minutes our real time data collection is proving to be invaluable, we are able to intervene before any early warning signs of anything awry. We monitor key indicators such as changes in water, feed intakes and bird spread. Many aspects can lead to an investigation of the ventilation system. 

The above graph shows a correlation between the ventilation and feed, the tunnel vent system was disturbing the birds away from the end feed pans housing the automatic feeding sensor which resulted in periods of feed outages. The team was able to quickly act on this data derived information and following immediate client consultation OPTIfarm was requested to remotely adjust the settings at the farm and the issue was resolved immediately. A positive outcome for the birds and the client immediately with no delays. 

 What happens when the outside temperature rises? To lose body heat birds pant allowing moisture to evaporate from the lungs (similar to dogs) but this physiological mechanism requires abundant fresh, dry air entering the birds lungs so that the moisture can be transpired then expelled by the birds as they exhale. So, when temperatures exceed 25°C with relative humidity’s of over 60% for example in UK summer, it is important to deliver as much fresh air at bird height as possible, thus constantly removing moisture exhaled by the birdsTo allow this in a positive vented house with air inlets and extraction fans the setting of inlets is as important as the settings of the fans 

Air inlets should allow not only the high volumes of air into the house but they must control direction of the air flow and the control the internal pressure of the house to ensure the fresh air reaches all the areas of the house, including corners, at the birds head height. 

In more extreme climates globally the OPTIfarm service is often assessing and advising on highly sophisticated environmental controls equipment and very specific technical management. What better than the extensive experience and knowledge of the OPTIfarm technical team remotely checking your farm 24 hours per day to give you that added peace of mind, plus save you time and money.  

Ventilation control systems and equipment are an investment and should be used to their full potential. This is not always easy or simple as modern ventilation systems become more sophisticated and complicated. OPTIfarm will ensure your poultry facilities are optimised to a very exacting standard today, tomorrow and every day.  

Working in conjunction with the major ventilation equipment manufacturers around the world OPTIfarm is uniquely able to support you in maximising the potential of your ventilation systems. Our experienced technicians will be looking on your behalf to constantly fine-tune settings and systems and help spot potential problems before they materialise. 

 OPTIfarm is a global support service focused on working for you to ensure you can maintain good performance and welfare of your birds and allow you that extra piece of mind.  

 

Covid and the CEO

Covid and the CEO

Working from home has been an interesting experience for me, given I spent the past years getting on first name terms with the cabin crew on a number of different airlines globally. My wife has coped brilliantly with me being around (never doubted for a moment), my step sons have discovered that I do actually work quiet hard and I don’t just jet set around the world ‘ living the dream’ and not to forget the dog who still seems amazed every morning to see that I am still around.

Initially my thought was, wow, what will I do with all my time, no driving, no checking in, no waiting on taxis, no time zones, however what I found was a huge initial demand on my time along with my team working together remotely to settle the company down into a new format, ensuring the well-being of all our team and making sure our already tested contingency plans worked in the event of remote working. I am really proud to say that there was absolutely no effect on our ability to serve our clients 24/7 and all credit to everyone here at OPTIfarm for embracing the challenge and just delivering.

As to my new routine, I can say that generally I start around 7.30am with a cup of tea (I am British after all) and I review the overnight activities, emails, internal messages, etc. My day is then full of video calls, emails, report writing, financial planning, etc, broken only but the rare occasion when I try to assist my wife in home schooling a 10 year old (running a global company is a dream compared to home schooling).  ON average my new working day is just as usual pre COVID19 but I try to end the day a little sooner than the midnight flights of old I used to have to catch and turn of the computer at around 5-6pm. I try to keep evenings and weekends as free from non-essential work as possible although I have been known to dip into the now home office on my way past for a quick message or two. this room was formally called an office but clearly wasn’t a place of a lot of work activity, more a home to the things that no one knew where else to put them.

I am becoming a master at Microsoft Teams and have found that actually I am now speaking to my team probably more than before given we are all sat in front of our computers linked up by the one software platform. Thank you, Microsoft this has really worked for us, internal emails are gone and an emoji makes the message more personal and less bland.

 

I would like to think we have remained in good contact with clients and found that as COVID19 was a global incident everyone around the word has been very receptive to video calls and remote meetings. Probably the biggest challenge is ensuring new potential clients understand through remote contact only the sincerity of ourselves and what we offer through the OPTIfarm service, some things including working relationships are just easier to establish in person, especially in different cultures and languages when body language can be a universal tool we all use to gauge what we are describing to each other. 

I am thinking due to the great success we have had that maybe some regular remote working away from the office is more achievable than we all previously thought and with this in mind we will be considering the potential for new team members to come from anywhere in the world as we clearly don’t all need to be sat in one head office to succeed.

 

David Speller - CEO - Headset included

My time during the Covid-19 Pandemic

My time during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

What to do when you suddenly stopped travelling for work?

One of the things I’ve learned from COVID-19 pandemic is that I don’t have any time management skills. My time management was dictated by my flight and travel schedule and me trying to avoid bringing work home. Now all of a sudden, I have all this free time saved from travel but at the same time businesses to chase which would require me to travel. I’ve been trying to do my best and apply some methods I’ve read about earlier in my career. 

Here is some stuff that works for me: 

  • Habits: Human is a habitual animal. Keeping at some trivial repetitive stuff can give a structure to a day. For me having a structure is important, like appearing two hours prior to a flight at the airport, habits are like anchors to attach my other activities to. I walk my dog around the compound where we live twice a day. I brew a coffee three times. These help me segment my day and give me some structure which otherwise would be given by my travel itinerary.
  • Keeping businesslike: I came to learn that now I am at home; my wife thinks that I am not working. I had to set boundaries without hurting her feelings while staying functional. We are in a very small summer house, so I don’t have a separate room to work in. I figured our bedroom is free during the day, so I walk in there and close the door whenever I am working. That helped us to separate two worlds. Which brings me to the next point.
  • No one lives life all businesses concluded: There is very small fraction of work that can’t be done tomorrow. It is a continuous balancing act between private and work life and it is very easy to lose this balance when confined at home in both ways. When I draw the line about being busy by closing the bedroom door, I also made clear when I am around the house, I am not working. I still keep checking stuff on my phone to some degree because I may need to respond to something in some other time zone, but I keep it limited.
  • Clearing the head: One thing I miss is my semi-sleep state of mind I had during travels. This gave me the opportunity to clear my head and let my subconscious ponder about stuff life and work related. Similarly, I hear people missing their commutes between work and home. I found the solution at walking. I am lucky that I live in a place with heavenly natural scenery and the shore is just a few minutes of walk. It is not sports training for me, rather a quiet time away from computer, home and everything to wind down and listen to myself.
  • Keeping in shape: Who knew luggage pulling was the one thing keeping me athletic? I am a lazy person by nature, but when I finally understood that this confinement is going to take a while, I made the decision to eat healthier, move a bit more and limit my alcohol consume to a minimum. Binge eating is one thing I can slip into very easily, so I tasked my wife to take care of our daily menu and keep all her snacks away from me. As a natural night owl, I had to force myself to get into bed the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning. Knowing your own nature helps a lot, when you know what can make you slip away become an issue over time all you need is to work against it consciously.  
  • Getting informed and staying oblivious: I am usually very particular about how I digest my news and get informed about stuff. With the pandemic I choose to stay oblivious to any pandemic related news. If there is a vaccine or a cure, or the end of the world comes, I’ll surely hear about it. But until then getting all kinds of depressing news about things I can’t change will only make me depressed, which won’t help anybody. I have a list of work-related news sites and a few technology sites I follow. When I find something interesting, like spearfishing at the moment, I read anything I can get my hands on about it. But that is it. We don’t have a television receiver at home, just a monitor connected to the Internet where we watch movies and series from Netflix.    
  • This will pass, so be prepared: When we travel for business, we go to visit people who expect us for some business purpose. This means, now is the best time to created those purposes so that we have some place to go and some people to visit after travel limitations are lifted. Remember Joe you never had the time to catch up with? Call him.
  • Housekeeping: We all say “if I had time, I’d sort those files and write those reports and create a framework for this and that purpose”. Well we won’t find any better opportunity, are we?
  • One last thing: No one performs well every day. You are not Tiger Woods.
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Yagmur Akgun

Global Sales Executive

What would you do?…

Do you own a poultry farm? Do you also have these questions in mind?

  1. Who’s watching the broiler farm overnight? 
  2. How do you solve employees problem during the holiday seasons, sick leave, and the rest of it?
  3. What do you do if you can’t find skilled employees for your poultry farms?

We have a solution that could help with all these problems. OPTIfarm. Just fill in our online questionnaire and we will contact you, explain more about the service, benefits, and contractual period.

 

OPTIfarm is a team of poultry analysts founded by David Speller, an award-winning Broiler farmer, with more than 14 years’ experience. The service was initially developed for their own farms, but quickly developed based on their customers’ recommendations, and led to support farms globally. They realised, there was a need to develop a system to enhance the farmer’s large investment by utilising existing equipment to its fullest potential.

 

We are a remote solution that connects to each poultry house every 90 minutes, 24 hours per day, checking, optimising and looking for improvements. Approximately 100+ checks are carried out on each house each week. Our service is using the internet connection and all the available technologies in your farm, like sensors for humidity, temperature, air pressure, CO2 and ammonia levels, water consumption, feed consumption and cameras. OPTIfarm work closely with farm staff to optimise productivity.

OPTIfarm can improve the parameters of your farm that you are not happy with, like feed conversion, uniformity, quality, hock burns and growth management, but also monitors bird welfare. By checking every 90 minutes, the team is analysing the data, applying the unique OPTIfarm decision tree, making observations and advising in various ways (e-mail, text message, What’sApp). The interactive OPTIfarm dashboard is a customised tool, and visualises all observations and recommendations according to your goals. It is supporting you to have a clear overview of all the parameters of your farm.

OPTIfarm works well alongside all major controllers. Whilst the software gathers and analyses data, We conduct real time farm assessments and provide advice to correct issues identified or foreseen either in the farm observations or the data analytics.