The U.S. is one of the world’s largest animal production countries, with annual sales of primary animal products, such as poultry, dairy, beef and swine reaching more than $160 billion. This industry is projected to keep growing in the upcoming decades to meet the ever-growing demands of protein for human consumption. However, animal production systems are facing grand challenges such as labor shortage, animal welfare concerns, food safety issues and environmental impacts. For instance, commercial broilers are vulnerable to welfare concerns such as leg issues and lameness. Those concerns have triggered the attention of the general public and the food industry.
Animal welfare is currently evaluated manually by farm workers, which is time consuming, labor intensive and subject to human error. This task calls for the development of automated systems that can monitor poultry welfare. UGA researchers are using and developing sensing and automation technologies to solve these issues and maintain and improve the animal industry. Machine vision technologies, embedded with machine/deep learning models, have been developed to monitor animal behaviors such as feeding, drinking, pecking, floor egg laying and walking. Internet of Things (IoT) sensing systems have been built to monitor air quality and livestock disease in animal houses in real time. Implantable and wearable sensors such as radio frequency identification systems have been applied to monitor resources and facility utilization efficiencies of individual animals. Robotic systems have been developed and applied to help manage floor eggs and broiler mortalities. Depth and thermal sensors have been built and used to measure phenotypic traits of individual animals.
These precision farming technologies will promote productivity, efficiency, safety and sustainability of animal production in the U.S. and beyond.