SMART Broiler Phase II Grant Advances Broiler Chicken Welfare

Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and McDonald’s Corporation announced that three of the six research projects funded in Phase I of the SMART Broiler program have been selected to receive a total of $1.63 million in Phase II. In this phase, researchers will optimize hardware and software configurations, advance data management and processing tools for measuring key welfare indicators and justify commercial investment in these new welfare monitoring tools. The technologies will be tested at two broiler producing barns, Tyson Foods Broiler Research Barn in Arkansas and Master Good in Kisvárda, Hungary.

FFAR partnered with McDonald’s in 2019 to award approximately $4 million to develop precision monitoring technologies that improve the way broiler chicken welfare is measured globally throughout the supply chain. By identifying automated Sensors, Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technologies (SMART) solutions that can replace human observation and subjective scoring, the SMART Broiler initiative can enhance the welfare for 9 billion birds annually in the U.S. and improve producer profitability.

“FFAR is pleased to provide further support in Phase II of the SMART Broiler program to these bold projects that are developing technologies to meet consumer and producer demand for increased animal welfare, while helping farmers more efficiently produce one of the world’s most consumed meats,” said Dr. Saharah Moon Chapotin, FFAR executive director.

The three SMART Broiler Phase II winners are:

1. Brandon Carroll and Tom Darbonne with AudioT, a new venture established at Georgia Tech University, are receiving $300,000, with additional in-kind support provided by Tyson Foods, to develop a scalable, low-cost audio-monitoring tool that tracks bird vocalizations to alert farmers to broiler welfare and behavior. Bird vocalizations can provide insight into flock status and can be a complementary tool to video-based systems.

2. Marian Dawkins with the University of Oxford is receiving $325,000, with additional in-kind support provided by Munters and Tyson Foods, to refine and extend the testing of a novel camera and computer system called OPTIFLOCK. The project is comparing key welfare outcomes, including hockburn, foot pad lesions and lameness, in commercial flocks managed with or without the technology and incorporates strategies to facilitate producer adoption of OPTIFLOCK technology.

3. Niamh O’Connell with Queen’s University Belfast is receiving $1 million, with additional in-kind support provided by Moy Park, to transfer intelligent surveillance techniques used for tracking humans to provide real time monitoring of individual birds within a flock. This camera-based technology, called FlockFocus, represents a significant improvement to monitoring technology currently available to the industry and has the potential for revolutionizing animal welfare in other sectors.

“McDonald’s is proud to partner with FFAR and take this next step in the SMART Broiler program, aimed at assisting farmers in providing even greater levels of care for their birds,” said Remi Rocca, senior director, Sustainable Sourcing, McDonald’s. “The collaborative work with FFAR, McDonald’s producers such as Tyson, Master Good and Moy Park, allied associations such as USPOULTRY, as well as all of the scientists and innovators, is an excellent example of public-private partnerships that prioritize animal health and welfare.”

The six Phase I prize winners collectively received more than $2 million to explore potential technologies and monitoring methods that improve broiler chicken welfare.

To further support the SMART Broiler program, Accenture is providing program management, cloud services and technical consulting support to the Phase II awardees. USPOULTRY has also awarded $100,000 in sponsorship to the SMART Broiler program, demonstrating the strong support from the U.S. broiler industry for this initiative.