Using machines to monitor hen welfare and reduce egg breakage

Results from a recently completed Poultry CRC proof-of-concept project, machine vision to count hens and reduce egg breakage, has demonstrated that ‘machine vision’, or video image analysis (VIA – the ability of a computer to ‘see’), can be used to monitor egg belts for potential blockages and has the potential for effectively counting hens.

Testing under commercial conditions has demonstrated that the ability of a machine to automatically scan the egg belt to identify foreign (non-egg) objects has improved to a 95% success rate.

The Project Leader, Greg Cronin, from DPI Victoria’s Animal Welfare Science Centre (AWSC), says that the results indicate that VIA can be successfully used to monitor activities within the modern cage-layer shed.

“Continued refinement of the software and hardware will further improve the detection rate,” said Greg, “with potential benefits measured not just in terms of economics, but in more varied and interesting jobs for stockpeople, which may also result in better retention of staff.”

As Australia’s population, and its workforce, ages, the pool of personnel available to the poultry industries is expected to shrink, and this technology may be part of a solution to the problem.

“VIA technology could also be applied to automatically monitor other production processes in the poultry and other livestock industries,” said Greg, “providing benefits from improved frequency of surveillance and enabling more time to be made available to the stockperson for less-mundane tasks. We consider counting hens in cages a first step in being able to monitor hens automatically, potentially leading to a mechanism for automatic monitoring of hen welfare and health.”

While VIA has already been used to grade eggs after collection, the use of VIA to reduce the incidence of cracked or broken eggs prior to collection does not appear to have been considered before this project.

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