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.
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