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Poultry scientists working on "chicken translator"

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May 17, 2012

Wayne Daley (left), a Georgia Tech Research Institute principal research scientist, and Ca...

Wayne Daley (left), a Georgia Tech Research Institute principal research scientist, and Casey Ritz, a University of Georgia associate professor of poultry science, prepare to record chicken vocalizations

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Any experienced chicken farmer will tell you, the relative contentment of the birds can be gauged by the sounds they’re making. While this has generally been accepted as anecdotal folk wisdom, a team of scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia are now trying to scientifically verify it. They’re hoping that their research could lead to better living conditions for the animals, lower costs to farmers, and higher productivity.

The scientists have been conducting a series of experiments, in a commercial-scale chicken barn. They started by recording a baseline of the regular background bird noise. Next, they made recordings while introducing elements of mild stress – these consisted of things such as raising the temperature or ammonia levels for a few hours. By using computers to analyze qualities such as the speed, volume, and pitch of the subsequently-recorded vocalizations, they were able to identify the specific changes that resulted when different stressors were introduced.

One challenge that they faced involved being able to hear the chickens over the sound of the industrial fans used to circulate the air in the barn. Through the application of signal-processing algorithms, however, they were for the most part able to overcome this problem.

Researcher David Anderson, in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering...

Researcher David Anderson, in Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, analyzes chicken vocalizations

Although the research is far from over, the team members hope that their findings could ultimately be applied to an automated system, in which custom software would continuously analyze a real-time audio feed from a barn. If that software detected a change in vocalizations that indicated a particular problem, it would notify the barn’s control system, which would rectify the situation – if the sounds indicated that the chickens were too hot, for instance, the control system would automatically lower the temperature.

While automated systems do already exist, they don’t respond to feedback from the birds themselves.

If successful, the Georgia system could result in more contented chickens, which would subsequently grow larger, faster, and with less need for medication. The required microphones could also provide a cheaper alternative to more expensive, less robust traditional sensors.

More information is available in the video below.

Source: Georgia Tech

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
5 Comments

Unquestionably, chickens have a meaningful vocabulary. We live in the country and a chicken showed up at our doorstep on Thanksgiving day 2010. She soon adopted the property after surveying it. An aviary was built for her protection from coyotes and hawks, dogs, cats, etc.. She settled right in and began laying eggs. Over the months she demonstrated surprising behavior for what we had once thought was "just a dumb chicken." Three standouts were; one, her distinct collection of sounds for various occassions; two, her ability to be selective of seeds and food items she ate; three, she had exceptional near and far sightedness. This chicken is an omnivore and eats more than just bugs, seeds, some small berries, and meat. Shockingly, she likes chicken meat. She will aggressively fling a bone in the air to tear the meat from it. Her preferences change, depending on her needs I suppose. Some of her favorites include shelled and unshelled sunflower seeds, tomato halves, wild bird seed. She never cared for egglaying mash. Her primary delicacy are inchworms that crawl down out of the PaloVerde tree for the night. As for sounds, she will entertain us as we approach the aviary or sit in chairs next to it. Some sounds are demanding, others warning, others are a mystery as to what she means. A suggestion for your research is to montior some chickens in individual spaces rather than in a communal chicken house. Return the chicken to as natural a protected environment as possible. A loan chicken may even crow like a rooster as the sun comes over the horizon. As for her vision, she could see a roadrunner hundreds of feet away, or a hawk high in the sky. Shadows that move over her aviary alert her and she runs to safety of her shelter. Other wild birds visit her daily as the aviary is made of galvanized fencing and not chicken wire. She doesn't seem to object to other birds sharing her food. Doves, sparrows, blackbirds, mockingbirds are just a few who visit. She loves dirt or dust baths and she loves to wade in shallow water to find bugs that float into her space from the lawn. Chickens can fly and climb tree branches. Last observation is this chicken can triangulate and follow the direction that a finger is pointing. For example, some of the inchworms are quite small and she misses them unless I point to them. Her name is Ojo, actually Una Ojo, which means "one eye."

Bob Roeske
18th May, 2012 @ 07:25 pm PDT

First step on the way to fulfilling the 'Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy'..... soon we'll all be able to hear the Chicken's saying 'Eat me'!

JPAR
21st May, 2012 @ 05:49 am PDT

It is a mystery of nature. Chickens and small ducks run towards their mother based on the voice of the mother. Calf is identified by the cow by the smell(licking the calf immediately after delivery). Humans sometimes get confused by similar tones but not chickens.

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
21st May, 2012 @ 06:16 am PDT

Chickens are actually quite sentient.... my one recently dug up a big grub and danced around excitedly to call me over to show me what it likes and when I came over and had a good look, it then at it all up.

The chook is a very fine communicator.

The modern factory farms - which this article is about, are quite a criminal event within themselves.

A great documentary on the subject is "Food Incorporated".

Mr Stiffy
22nd May, 2012 @ 04:35 am PDT

We keep chickens and they make lots of different noises some of which you can tell what they mean.

Nick Swarfega
24th May, 2012 @ 08:09 am PDT
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