QUB professor receives over $300k funding to enhance research of farmed chicken welfare

  • Academics from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) have been awarded $310,738 for research in monitoring the welfare of chickens farmed for their meat.  

    The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and McDonald’s fast food restaurant has announced Professor Niamh O’Connell as one of six recipients funded in the first phase of the SMART Broiler programme, a research initiative that is awarding over $4m in grants and technical support to develop automated monitoring tools that precisely assess chicken welfare.  

    Prof O’Connell is currently based at QUB’s Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS) and will work jointly on this project with global experts in video analytic techniques, based at the university’s Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT).

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    She will use the funding to develop a vision-based system normally focused on enhancing resilience of large crowds of people - and apply it to the tracking and behavioural analysis of a flock of chickens.

    This will enable researchers to monitor large numbers of birds, track their activity patterns and gather welfare indicators such as gait, feather cleanliness and incidents of play behaviour.  

    The research is in partnership with Northern Ireland poultry producer, Moy Park.

    Prof O’Connell said: "Using vision-based technologies to monitor animal behaviour offers enormous opportunities to the agri-food sector. 

    "Working with Moy Park, this project will trial the technology with poultry, and will help us better understand how the birds engage with their environment and each other. We're particularly interested in indicators of positive emotion or 'happiness' such as play."   

    Professor O’Connell conducts farm animal health and welfare research and has specific expertise in applied, on-farm work.  One of her research themes focuses particularly on helping to design optimum housing environments for farmed chickens. 

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    Current methods for assessing chicken welfare on farms often rely on human observation, which may be subjective and result in delayed intervention.

    SMART Broiler is developing automated sensors, monitoring, analysis, and reporting technologies to objectively and comprehensively assess welfare worldwide.  

    FFAR’s executive director Dr Sally Rockey said her team was “impressed by the calibre of the more than 40 SMART Broiler proposals received from 11 countries, which underscores the global importance of this issue” and added “producers and consumers alike are eager to address animal welfare concerns.”

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    Source: Written from press release

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