Exploration of sensor-based behavioural observation for individual laying hens and broiler breeders and the relationship with animal welfare

Principal Investigator: Michael Toscano
Project Team: Laura Candelotto (PhD student)
Yamenah Gómez (co-supervisor, PostDoc)
Collaborator: Klara Grethen (PhD student) 
Anne van den Oever (PhD Student, Wageningen University)
Camille Montalcini (PhD student) 
Funded by: Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO)

One of the key issues in animal welfare is how to scientifically and objectively measure the welfare state of an animal. An important aspect of animal-based parameters is behaviour as it can be used to assess an animal's needs but also how it is affected by its physical condition and environment. However, in poultry where animals are kept in extremely large groups, behavioural observations of individuals are difficult, particularly over an extended period of time. With advances in technology, novel sensor-based observation systems are available, which may enable new insights into individual behaviour and welfare within large groups.

Our project aims to explore the potential of a sensor-based tracking system to represent individual welfare in poultry. The used tracking system is based on wireless communication technology and allows continuous monitoring of the animals' movements among defined resource-related zones within the barn. As a first step, the performance of the tracking system will be assessed under experimental and commercial conditions. After validating the reliability of the tracking data, the retrieved movement and location data will be explored for its association with individual health, genetic origin, and the performance in common fearfulness tests.