FFAR Announces Six SMART Broiler Winners, in Partnership with McDonald’s

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) announced the six SMART Broiler Phase I winners, a program developed in partnership with McDonald’s. SMART Broiler is a research initiative that is awarding more than $4 million in grants and technical support to develop automated monitoring tools that precisely assess broiler chicken welfare. The Phase I winners collectively received $2,092,439 in funding from FFAR and McDonald’s, with the potential to receive additional funding in Phase II.

Current methods for assessing broiler chicken welfare on-farm rely on human observation and subjective scoring. SMART Broiler is developing automated Sensors, Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technologies (SMART) to objectively and comprehensively assess broiler welfare worldwide. These tools have the potential to enhance welfare for 9 billion birds annually in the US and improve efficiency for producers.

“FFAR is impressed by the caliber of the more than 40 SMART Broiler proposals we received from 11 countries, which underscores the global importance of this issue,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Dr. Sally Rockey. “Producers and consumers alike are eager to address animal welfare concerns. This initiative seeks to remedy these concerns by developing technologies that provide consistent, timely and accurate welfare assessments on farms around the world.”

This initiative is divided into two phases. Phase I provides funds for early development and testing of technologies. Phase II refines and validates the most promising technologies from Phase I. FFAR anticipates granting additional awards for Phase II, which will likely be announced in late 2021.

The six SMART Broiler Phase I winners are:

  1. Marian Dawkins with the University of Oxford, in partnership with Munters and Tyson Foods, is receiving $232,063 to test the ability of a novel camera/computer system called OpticFlock to monitor broiler chicken welfare. Cameras inside chicken houses monitor bird behavior and deliver a ‘verdict’ every 15 minutes to alert producers to early signs of broiler welfare issues, like foot pad lesions and lameness. Munters will help develop the technology so it can be commercialized as a standalone unit and as part of existing environmental monitoring technologies. By combining other environmental data factors, researchers intend to improve the quality of life for farmers and birds.
  2. Niamh O’Connell with Queen’s University Belfast, in partnership with Moy Park, is receiving $310,738 to develop a vision-based system that leverages existing human crowd surveillance algorithms and applies them to the tracking and behavior analysis of broiler chickens. This will enable researchers to monitor large numbers of birds and track individual activity patterns, including welfare indicators such as gait score and feather cleanliness, in addition to natural behavior.
  3. Ingrid de Jong with Wageningen University & Research, and collaborators at Utrecht University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Virginia Tech, is receiving $500,000, with additional support provided by Plukon Food GroupCLK GmbH and Utrecht University for a total $610,000 award, to use an affordable camera-based system and artificial intelligence that automatically records broiler chicken behavior on-farm. The 2D and 3D cameras will continuously monitor broilers’ ability to walk, interact with each other and the environment, and other natural behaviors such as running, playing, foraging and dustbathing.
  4. Lasse Lorenzen with Scio+, Big Dutchman AG and SKOV A/S, with collaborators at KU LeuvenPurdue University and Aarhus University, is receiving $499,649, with additional support provided by Scio+ for a total $1,000,038 award. Scio+ et. al. is using camera technology and advanced image analysis to continuously monitor commercial broiler flocks, map welfare assessments and estimate walking ability.
  5. Hao Gan with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, in partnership with Mississippi State University and USDA-ARS and BioRICS NV, is receiving $350,000, with additional support provided by the University of Tennessee AgResearch and Peco Foods for a total $513,214 award. Gan is using multi-angle and multi-range cameras to monitor commercial broilers at both individual and flock levels and measure their walking ability and level of activity.
  6. Tom Darbonne and Dr. Brandon Carroll with AudioT, are receiving $200,000, with additional support provided by Tyson Foods and Fieldale Farms for a total $505,555 award to develop audio-based monitoring tools created on bird vocalizations that alert farmers to broiler welfare and behavior. Bird vocalizations can provide insight into flock activity welfare status. This project builds on 10 years of research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Agricultural Technology Research Program and will result in a scalable, low-cost sensor and analytics package complimentary to video-based systems.

“McDonald’s is proud to work with FFAR to fund innovative on-farm technologies to measure and improve broiler welfare,” said McDonald’s Corporation Vice President of Sustainability Keith Kenny. “These technologies have huge potential to improve the welfare of chickens in our supply chains all over the world. We believe the Phase I winners to be industry leading, and we are excited to see the evolution of this research.”

To further support SMART Broiler, Amazon Web Services Inc. and Accenture are providing cloud services and technical consulting support to the Phase I awardees in preparation for scale-up and commercialization. USPOULTRY has also awarded $100,000 in sponsorship to SMART Broiler, demonstrating the strong support from the US broiler industry for this initiative.