Autonomous Navigating Robot For Poultry Layer Farming

Briefing workshop hosted by the Envirobot Consortium

17th May 2022

The Envirobot Consortium has developed a data collection robot for operation in caged layer farms. The robot designed for the collection of environmental, health, and bird welfare data has been trialed by our partners in China on broiler and layer farms.

The programme includes:

  • Current market place – Octopus, ChickenBoy, RoboChick
  • The latest robotic developments
  • Headline data
  • Key benefits
  • Future potentials
  • Question and Answer session

The Envirobot consortium has completed a Newton funded 36 month feasibility study.

The study has encompassed:

  • Specification and development of a UK robot system optimised for operation in complex environments
  • Autonomous navigation
  • Development of an alternative robot for use on Chinese Poultry farms
  • Development, testing, and deployment of a range of environmental sensors
  • Development of Health sensor (VOC sensor)
  • Development of bird Welfare sensor (behaviour)
  • Multiple data sets and ongoing advice for optimal environment to farm managers

Based on advances made during the study, the Envirobot Consortium will present new findings in the context of the poultry industry in Europe and China.

This will be an online even, commencing at 10:00 on the 17th May 2022

Visual Monitoring of Broiler Behaviour, Health and Welfare using Artificial Intelligent Image Machine Learning.

This project will monitor specific behaviours in the flock to improve our knowledge of intensively raised broiler chicken behaviours in relation to modern management techniques allowing for improved health, welfare and performance. 

24/7 monitoring of poultry environments with quantified visual observations aim to record which behaviours are being displayed by ratio at specified times and known conditions. This potentially enables early disease detection reducing mortality.

The environment required for optimum chicken growth is tightly controlled. Various elements are measured and managed constantly throughout the day. Small changes in these environmental elements cause significant changes to the chickens’ state of wellbeing. 

Observations of behaviours are a proven indicator of animal health and welfare. Chickens can suffer from a myriad of illnesses and ailments, these almost always display some sort of behavioural change.

Currently, farmers use environmental measures and visual observation to see any change in the birds. This relies on quality observations from the stockman. Reliance on human intervention is not a guaranteed method of effective management though.

Using camera systems and AI technology to analyse the images, selected broiler behaviours being displayed by how many birds at what time of day and in what conditions will be identified to assess overall wellbeing.  

A collaborative project involving Applied PoultryV7 Ltd, and the RVC.

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.

R&D Insights

What does a typical day look like?

It’s a very varied role in R&D, no two days are the same. Time is split between office-based work applying for projects and grants and securing funding, as well as writing reports on current or completed trials and then time spent on farms running trials.

The projects we run are often collaborations with other businesses or Universities. We have access to many modern, state of the art broiler farms and with the help of our service, we get accurate real-time environmental and performance data, so are able to gather reliable results which are representative of the commercial production system.

Projects so far...

Over the past year we have been involved in trials looking at:

  • Nutritional support to improve production/reduce disease or stress. 
  • Robotics – everything from environmental monitoring to faeces analysis, product application onto litter for a reduction in greenhouse gases, and bird welfare monitoring. 
Robotics R&D
Robotics R&D
  • New methods of monitoring birds to improve welfare and production using modern camera technologies and sound monitoring.  
  • New methods of disinfection for drinking water and house cleaning to reduce the use of chemicals and medication. 
  • We aren’t limited to chickens either! With our remote environmental monitoring technology at OPTIfarm we can transfer into other animal businesses, currently looking at pigs, fish, honeybee health and insect larvae.

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…