From the Field 
The Burleigh Dodds Science Blog Series 
From the Field 
The Burleigh Dodds Science Blog Series 
From the Field 
The Burleigh Dodds Science Blog Series 

Wearable technologies: driving improvements in chicken welfare? 

Consumer and retailer concerns 
Recent spikes in consumer and retailer concern for the welfare of farmed animals (including chickens) have led to the development of animal welfare standards, changes in how animals are housed and managed, and new research opportunities to develop animal-based indicators of animal welfare. Concerns around overcrowding in broiler sheds, health problems such as lameness in broilers and keel bone fractures in laying hens, development of injuries / stress during catching, transport and slaughter and restriction on space or natural daylight are a few of the more prominent ones. 
To mitigate these concerns, some governments have enforced legislative changes to the way poultry are housed and managed on-farm. This includes the transition from traditional housing systems for laying hens to a more complex enclosure that increases the bird’s interaction with its environment, whilst also ensuring competent movement. 
There are several systems that have been implemented to improve chicken welfare, but in doing so, a new challenge has presented itself. This challenge being how to accurately measure and validate individual bird behaviour as a means for ensuring the welfare of chickens in response to customer concerns. 
How important is behaviour? 
The behaviour of an animal – whether categorised as livestock or companion – is arguably the most important and telling sign of an animal’s wellbeing. Behaviour is the core of an animal’s life, in the sense that it can reflect and drive the decision making of the animal. How will it survive if faced by extreme weather conditions? How will it respond if it comes under attack? How will it respond to agonistic interactions? And so on. 
Visual behaviour observations 
The behaviour of an animal can also be used as an indicator of the state of its health, both internal and external. For example, if an animal is showing signs of aggression or distress, the animal may be in external or internal pain. However, when human caretakers are relying on visual observations of an animal’s behaviour, these visual observations are by nature subjective, and the conclusions drawn may depend on who is observing the animal. Consequently, visual observations are not always reliable and there may be errors associated with interpreting animal behaviour. 
What is the alternative to visual behaviour observations? 
A more recent suggested alternative to visual behaviour observations is to instead rely on precision technology as a means of quantifying the behavioural changes of an animal. Due to the sensitive nature of precision technology, it increases the likelihood of identifying slight, subtle changes in behaviour – changes that may go unnoticed by the human eye. These changes can be in relation to play, exploration and grooming, to name a few. 
This change to relying on precision technologies not only eliminates the possibility of error-prone disease identification, but it poses the possibility of also improving poultry farmers’ ability to identify a problem, treat it correctly and resolve any issues that hinder the welfare of their flock. 
What precision technology is available? 
With its rapid growth in popularity, precision technology is being implemented across the major livestock industries, from cattle to poultry. The assessment of ruminant welfare can be completed using the following wearable technologies: collars, ankle straps, ear-tags and implantable electronics. 
However, when it comes to assessing the behaviour and welfare of poultry, the challenge is far greater for a multitude of reasons, including the relatively smaller size of the birds, the economic value of each bird, as well as the population to area ratio. 
Radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) 
This piece of technology is placed on individual chickens and is a great source for providing extensive data (Figure 1). The tags are typically worn and exist in two forms: 
Active: Operate with its own battery source, longer lifespan, more expensive, increased data reading range 
Passive: Operate with external battery source, reduced lifespan, cheaper and reduced data reading range 
Leg band worn by free-range hens
Figure 1: An adjustable leg band worn by free-range hens. 
RFID is mostly used to examine the patterns of free-range hens and broilers in regard to their interaction with the elements in their environment, e.g. the outdoor range area, perches, next boxes, food, water, etc. 
Wearable sensors 
Most wearable sensors include accelerometers, which measure the direction and magnitude of acceleration along one, two and three axes. As with most technology, more than one version exists. Differing types of accelerometers can be used to measure the following aspects: motion, shock and vibration. 
Recent studies have explored the viability of combining accelerometers with other wearable technologies, such as location tracking sensors and temperature sensors. When used in conjunction with one another, more extensive data can be collected. 
The sector has homed in on precision technologies and the promise they offer as a means of monitoring chicken behaviour and improving welfare. 
The implementation of precision technologies to monitor poultry behavioural patterns and activity levels has its immediate advantages. Arguably the most important element is the non-invasive nature of the technology that won’t bring harm or distress to the animal. In addition to this, these relatively small tags are equipped with the ability to collect raw data in real-time and house that data for longer periods. In this sense, sudden changes in animal behaviour can be identified immediately, prompting some form of response from the farmer.  
To some extent, it could be argued that data capture and the way that data is used is the main mechanism for improving current welfare protocols across the livestock sector. Whilst technology aids the collection of data, it’s the raw data that is extracted and utilised to implement programmes that focus on improving the welfare of chickens in compliance with current animal welfare standards, as well as the standards set by consumers and retailers. 
The Future 
Despite the sector’s interest in precision technologies, the technology itself is still in its early stages for application to the research and commercial market. Future research into further improvements of pre-existing technologies – and those in development – is essential for advancement, yet an inevitable process. 
Poultry welfare monitoring: wearable technologies features in the new title Understanding the behaviour and improving the welfare of chickens. Christine Nicol (ed), 2020, Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing, Cambridge, UK (ISBN: 978-1-78676-422-5; 
About the blog 
This blog has been written by Katherine Lister - Marketing Executive at Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing. The blog's content has been derived from Poultry welfare monitoring: wearable technologies - a chapter taken from Understanding the behaviour and improving the welfare of chickens.  
To ensure validity and correctness, the blog has been reviewed and edited by the chapter authors: Dr Dana Campbell, CSIRO, Australia; and Dr Marisa Erasmus, Purdue University, USA. 
Understanding the behaviour and improving the welfare of chickens

Other Poultry Science Titles 

Achieving sustainable production of poultry meat Volume 3 Improving gut health in poultry Advances in poultry genetics and genomics
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