KNOXVILLE, TENN. — The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture recently received a grant from the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) SMART Broiler Initiative to create a system of multi-angle and multi-range cameras to observe commercial broilers. The high-tech monitoring would happen at individual and flock levels.

The new system was among six recipients of Phase I grants from FFAR along with McDonald’s Corp. who awarded more than $4 million in grants and technical support to develop automated monitoring tools that precisely assess broiler chicken welfare.

Hao Gan, a biosystems engineer with the university, will lead the project. He plans to use vision software and training with farmers to check chicken activity level.

“Our design approach is to incorporate vision software training with input from professional welfare assessors to produce an assessment system that solves the expense and labor shortages associated with current manual welfare assessments,” Gan said. “But the system also needs to maintain the accuracy and integrity of manual assessments.”

The constant operation of the automated system would reduce the number of hours of manual labor associated with welfare assessment while increasing the monitoring of bird health and activity.

The goal for the project is to enhance the welfare of approximately 9 billion birds raised annually in the United States. With his idea, Gan wants to increase efficiency for producers, while providing improved animal welfare.

“Consumers worldwide are justifiably concerned with food animal welfare and seek to make purchasing decisions that result in improved raising practices,” Gan said. “A challenge in addressing this concern is the need to develop tools that quantify food animal behavior, the ultimate welfare indicator.”

Gan will work with research partners from Mississippi State University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and BioRICS NV on the camera system.