Wireless sensors used to monitor chickens

A team of Michigan State University researchers will explore the use of new wireless technology to determine its effectiveness in monitoring the welfare of egg-laying chickens.

Using a grant of $375,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the researchers will test wearable sensors that will monitor how hens use space and resources in non-cage environments.

“The team has developed a hen-mountable wireless sensor system for tracking a hen’s activity profile, including its movement with respect to other hens and fixed items such as nest boxes, perches and water stations. The sensor weighs less than 1 ounce.

“Wearable and networked wireless sensor technology is currently being explored in academia and in the industry primarily for human health monitoring,” says Subir Biswas, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, and one of the team members. “We wanted to develop applications for such technology in the context of animal health and well-being monitoring.”

Understanding a hen

“The purpose of the USDA grant is to use the wearable sensors to understand how laying hens use space and resources, like perches and nest boxes, in non-cage housing systems,” says Janice Siegford, team member and professor of animal science. “Ultimately, the sensors will also tell us what behavior a hen is performing. Is she laying an egg? Eating? Or roosting on a perch? Does she fly or walk to move around?”

The information will serve as a basis for how to provide hens with key resources and how much space they really need. The information will provide a scientific basis for designing non-cage systems for laying hens that provide the best possible welfare. Long-term implications include improving non-cage designs and creating an automated monitoring system to monitor welfare.

“The general public is showing concern over how animals in production are housed and whether they can show natural behaviors,” Siegford says. “In response, the egg industry in the United States is considering adopting non-cage housing systems for their laying hens. But non-cage systems that are poorly designed can cause health problems and can lead to feather pecking and cannibalism. So in order to design non-cage systems that really improve the welfare of laying hens, we need to understand how these housing systems affect the behavior and health of the individual birds living in these systems.”

Source: MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

This article published in the March, 2010 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.