Chickens on camera: practical application and commercialisation of the optical flow system for improved poultry welfare and health

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Zoology

Abstract

Chicken is the most widely eaten meat in the world but commercial producers of broiler (meat) chickens face a number of problems including competition from overseas, public criticism about the health and welfare of their birds, concern about food safety (e.g. Campylobacter) and pressure to reduce their use of medication, especially antibiotics. To help chicken producers with all of these problems, we have developed a camera/computer system that gives a readout every 15 minutes of the how their flocks are behaving in comparison to 'normal' flocks. It enables farmers to keep constant watch on all of their flocks and to take action at the first signs of disease or poor welfare. Before producers will buy or invest in our product, they need to satisfy themselves that it actually works in practices. We now want to put our system in the hands of farmers for use in their day to day management of their flocks to see if it genuinely does help to produce healthier, higher welfare chickens.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Significant achievements:
- A working version of a new tool for assessing the welfare of commercially farmed broiler chickens, trademarked OpticFlock, that has full documentation, instructions for installation and facilities for remote error correction
- On-farm evidence that OpticFlock can deliver real-time information on chicken welfare to farmers in a variety of circumstances (e.g. independent of camera height, camera angle, ambient light level etc.)
- An agreement with a major international company (The Munters Corporation) for OpticFlock data to be integrated into their widely-used Echo-Mesh platform and therefore potentially to be sold around the world
- Further funding from an international agricultural/food charity (FFAR) and the setting up of further trials with Tyson Foods, the largest chicken producer in the US to demonstrate the commercial value of OpticFlock
Exploitation Route - The findings are already being taken forward by a major international equipment company, Munters, who have begun to implement OpticFlock on their existing platform for collecting environmental data. This paves the way for OpticFlock to be sold globally through Munters' world-wide marketing network.
- We have been awarded a BBSRC/EPSRC IAA grant (administered internally by the University of Oxford) to help us prepare OpticFlock for integration into the Munters' Sonar/Echo-Mesh platform. This grant will help us to deal with software incompatibilities and to develop a rigorous calibration procedure to be implemented on installation.
- CONFIDENTIA< UNTIL MARCH 16 2020: We have been awarded a 'Smart Broiler' award by FFAR (Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research in collaboration with McDonald's) and offered the use of the Tysons Research Farm in Arkansas. If Phase 1 of this grant is successful, FFAR and McDonald's will arrnage further trials with other major producers in Europe and the US.
- The same approach has now been applied to another serious welfare issue - tail-biting in pigs.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment

URL https://opticflock.com
 
Description Our findings are currently being taken up by a large international company (Munters) with a view to being part of their global network of environmental monitoring systems. As discussions are currently underway, commercial confidentiality prevents full disclosure at this point. We have also been awarded a grant from FFAR (Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research) under their SMART Broiler initiative. The award is for $350394. I have attempted to enter this under Further Funding but the system would not save the information, possibly because it is an American charity, not a recognized UK funding agency. In addition, the same optical flow approach is now being utilised in a completely different context - to predict outbreaks of tail biting in pigs
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment
Impact Types Economic

 
Description BBSRC IAA University of Oxford
Amount £300,000 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/S50676X/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 03/2021
 
Description EPSRC Impact Acceleration Award
Amount £89,396 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R511742/1 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Description OpticFlock: de-risking for market evaluation
Amount £89,396 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R511742/1 
Organisation University of Oxford 
Department EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 07/2019
 
Title OpticFlock: automated assessment of broiler chicken welfare 
Description OpticFlock is a camera/computer system that can be placed inside commercial chicken houses and gives a continuous 'verdict' on the welfare of the birds throughout their lives. It works by taking visual images from a cctv camera and running them through an 'optical flow' algorithm pre-stalled on a small computer. 'Optical flow' measures the rate of change of image brightness and is able to pick up the statistical patterns of movement made by flocks as they move. Our background research has shown that certain key optical flow statistics- particularly the mean rate of movement and the kurtosis (a measure of variation) are highly predictive of key welfare outcomes (especially hockburn and lameness) and are even able to predict which flocks are at greatest risk of later testing positive for Campylobacter, days or weeks before this is detectable by standard culture methods. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Negotiations for a Development Licence with the Munters Corporation for the commercialization of OpticFlock 
 
Title welfare assessment tool (OPTICFLOCK) 
Description Use of camera technology to assess welfare in broiler chickens. We have developed a system (OPTICFLOCK) that analyses video data on farms and send the results to a web portal. Farmers can be sent a daily updates the state of their flocks in comparison to standard or reference flocks. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2015 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact We have received a great deal of interest from the commercial world and have entered into development agreements with some multi-national companies. We are still validating the application to a new species (pigs) 
URL http://opticflock.com
 
Description Commercial development of OpticFlock 
Organisation Munters Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have shared our data on optical flow with Munters so that we could all compare our results on welfare with their results on environmental variables. A year-long trial was conducted to allow sufficient data to be collected for such a comparison
Collaborator Contribution As a result of this preliminary collaboration, Munters indicted that they would be interested in proceeding to discussion over a Development Licence in which they would look at the feasibility of incorporating OpticFlock data onto their Sonar/Echo-Mesh platform. we are in process of negotiating the development licence, which could immensely befeit the commercialisation of OpticFlock.
Impact This collaboration is multidisciplinary: Animal welfare, software development, statistical analysis The outputs are currently being developed. This week (February 2020) we have just received the equipment from Munters that will enable us to see whether it can receive and display OpticFlock data. Tests on a trial farm in the US are planned for later this year.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Commercial test of OPTICFLOCK during feed trials 
Organisation DuPont
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have agreed to analyse cctv footage for trials due to start at the beginning of March 2019
Collaborator Contribution Dupongt are setting up the trials, making the video recordings and suppling them to us
Impact Trials pallned to start in March 2019 so now outputs yet
Start Year 2018
 
Description Commercial trials with a fire to integration of information 
Organisation Munters Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have collected and contributed Optical flow data on the behaviour of broiler flocks.
Collaborator Contribution Munters have contributed production and environmental data. We are continuing discussions and are currently drawing up NDAs tp facilitate this.
Impact Multidisciplinary study : behaviour (Oxford University), production (Munters).This collaboration is one of the ways we plan to bring OPTICFLOCK to market. The preliminary trials in the UK have been completed and discussions are under way for further on-farm trials.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Development of camera/OPTICFLOCK system 
Organisation Agri-cctv Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We supply technical advice and analysis
Collaborator Contribution Agri-cctv install cameras and our equipment in chicken shed
Impact Trials started in May 2017 and finished in December 2018. The outcome was considerable interest fro a major international compaby, with whom a licensing arrangement is currently being negotiated
Start Year 2017
 
Description Integration of OPTICFLOCK data onto a commercially available dashbiard 
Organisation Munters Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Knowledge of flock behaviour
Collaborator Contribution We are negotaiation what they they will provide but we expect it to be help with development
Impact Please note that we are collaborating with Munters internationally but not Munters UK specifically (but this is the only option yoyr system allows!). We are currently negotiating a lience agreement for development
Start Year 2018
 
Description On-farm trial of OpticFlock 
Organisation Avara Foods Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provided them with information about the welfare of their flocks and the presence (and genotypes) of Campylobacter with the aim of helping them to trace the source of Campylobacter infection. This has resulted the important result that very young birds in all flocks tested appear to carry Campylobacter but in such minute quantities that these are undetectable by normal culture methods.
Collaborator Contribution Permitting us to put cameras in their chicken houses, providing end-of-flock production data on each flock and collecting faecal samples for us.
Impact The collaboration is multidisciplinary: Animal welfare (Department of Zoology), Microbiology (Department of Zoology), software (Dept. Engineering Science). statistics )DEparmemt of Statistics. The demonstration that Campylobacter is present in minute quantities even in chicks as young as 3 days hold is potentially of great importance in developing control strategies. We are currently in discussion with Cargill (now AVARA) about further testing of the hypothesis that Campylobacter control may be best achieved through improved welfare.
Start Year 2016
 
Description On-farm trial of OpticFlock 
Organisation Tyson Foods
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provided them with information about the welfare of their flocks and the presence (and genotypes) of Campylobacter with the aim of helping them to trace the source of Campylobacter infection. This has resulted the important result that very young birds in all flocks tested appear to carry Campylobacter but in such minute quantities that these are undetectable by normal culture methods.
Collaborator Contribution Permitting us to put cameras in their chicken houses, providing end-of-flock production data on each flock and collecting faecal samples for us.
Impact The collaboration is multidisciplinary: Animal welfare (Department of Zoology), Microbiology (Department of Zoology), software (Dept. Engineering Science). statistics )DEparmemt of Statistics. The demonstration that Campylobacter is present in minute quantities even in chicks as young as 3 days hold is potentially of great importance in developing control strategies. We are currently in discussion with Cargill (now AVARA) about further testing of the hypothesis that Campylobacter control may be best achieved through improved welfare.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Research trials for commercialising OPTICFLOCK 
Organisation Tuffigo-Rapidex
Country France 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We set up OPTICFLOCK on five French farms and planned to supply Tuffigo with optical flow data. Unfortunately there were problem video recordings, which turned out to be unsuitable for optical flow analysis. We believe that the NAS drives storing the data were repeatedly switched on and off and the computers were therefore incorrectly shut-down. After repeated attempts to retrieve data from corrupted NAS drives. The trials were abandoned.
Collaborator Contribution Tuffigo-rapidex were to have supply us with house data an production data on the same flocks
Impact Data was collected Nov.2016-August 2017 but there were technical problems that prevented us collecting as good a dataset as we would have liked. Other data collected (e.g. Campylobacter) will be used in subsequent publications.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Research trials on commercialising OPTICFLOCK 
Organisation SKOV A/S
Country Denmark 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We have downloaded data from SKOV and have analysed it
Collaborator Contribution SKOV have supplied us with video records and production data for commercial broiler flocks
Impact SKOV want to enter into a licence agreement but we are still negotiating this. They wanted us to pay fro any further developments so we do not think this is a favoruable route to go down.
Start Year 2016
 
Title OpticFlock 
Description OpticFlock is a camera/computer system for automatic assessment for broiler chicken welfare that delivers a welfare 'verdict' throughout the life of a flock. It takes moving images from a cctv camera and analyzes the statistical patterns of movement made by the flocks as they move. The data from a given flock are compared with those of reference flocks with so that a farmer can see whether the flock is behaving as normal for high welfare flocks or whether there are problems. This early warning of welfare/disease issues can be used to intervene to prevent problems becoming more serious. 
IP Reference  
Protection Trade Mark
Year Protection Granted 2016
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact We are in process of negotiating a Development Licence with a view to trials in the US this year. By December, progress will be reviewed to see whether both parties wish to proceed to a full licensing agreement.
 
Title OPTICFLOCK 
Description We have developed OPTICFLOCK software so that it automatically analyses the moments of chicken flocks, analyses that moment on farms and reports the results to a web portal, which in turn conveys updated information to a farmer on a daily basis. We have applied for trademark registration for OPTICFLOCK. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact We are just about (March 2017) to test the first prototype, 
URL http://opticflock.com
 
Description Automated assessment of welfare 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Discussion with British Egg Industry. London. 28 November 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Cefas/NC3Rs conference in Weymouth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Cefas/NC3Rs invited talk on monitoring animal welfare. This particular conference was on fish welfare and addressing the needs for refinement in laboratory care in fish.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description How animal behaviour can help us assess the health and well-being of poultry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact invited plenary talk to Poultry Health and Management Conference, Loughborough, UK. 20th Novermber, 2918.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Innovative system for monitoring poultry health 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited plenary talk to the Italian Branch of the World Poultry Science Association in Perugia, Italy. 6th April, 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited plenary talk Eastern Nutrition Conference, Guelph, Canada 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited plenary talk in Guelph, Canada on monitoring poetry welfare
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited plenary talk to WPSA/WVPA/IPP, Utrecht, The Netherlands 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk to poultry industry at poetry summit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Keynote speech, Campbell Centre for Animal Welfare, University of Guelph, Canada 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An annual lecture is sponsored by the Campbell centre for Animal Welfare.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Keynote talk to World Animal Protection conference, Bangkok, Thailand 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Keynote speech on assessing animal welfare to the World Animal Protection (formerly WSPA) aimed at facilitating links to industry
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Presentation to Perdue Farms, USA 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Perdue Farms organised a 'poultry summit' and open day and invited me to be a keynote speaker
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk to Norfolk poultry farmers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk to Norfolk poultry farmers
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Talk to graduate students in Balliol College, Oxford 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Debate on animal welfare with students at Balliol College Oxford.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Talk to international group at London Airport 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Small international conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description WPVA Plenary talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Large International Conference of the World Poultry veterinary Association in Edinburgh 3-6 September 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description automated assessment of poultry welfare 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk to the Animal Welfare Research Network conference in Birmingham. 3rd September, 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018