Research Team Uses Wireless Sensors to Monitor Chicken Well-Being

 February 9, 2010

Subir Biswas, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, is working with a team of animal science researchers to explore the use of new wireless technology to determine its effectiveness in monitoring the welfare of egg-laying chickens.

With a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the researchers will test wearable sensors that will monitor how hens use space and resources in non-cage environments.

The team has developed a hen-mountable wireless sensor system for tracking a hen’s activity profile, including its movement with respect to other hens and fixed items such as nest-boxes, perches and water station. The sensor weighs less than one ounce.

“Wearable and networked wireless sensor technology is currently being explored in academia and in the industry primarily for human health monitoring,” said Biswas. “We wanted to develop applications for such technology in the context of animal health and well-being monitoring.”

Using such a wearable system for bird monitoring will require a number of key engineering innovations, including low-power wireless network protocols, on-body and off-body data fusion models, smart software middleware, and runtime actuation of infrastructure control based on the monitored data.

“The purpose of the USDA grant is to use the wearable sensors to understand how laying hens use space and resources, like perches and nest boxes, in non-cage housing systems,” said Janice Siegford, team member and assistant professor of animal science. “Ultimately, the sensors will also tell us what behavior a hen is performing. Is she laying an egg? Eating? Or roosting on a perch? Does she fly or walk to move around?”

The information will serve as an important basis for how to provide hens with key resources and how much space they really need. Such information will provide a scientific basis for designing non-cage housing systems for laying hens that provide the best possible welfare for the animals.

The long-term implications include improving non-cage housing design and creating an automated monitoring system to monitor welfare with potential commercial applications. 

Other team members include Janice Swanson, a professor of animal science and large animal clinical science; Darrin Karcher from the Department of Animal Science; Ruth Newberry and Marvin Pitts from Washington State University; and Joy Mench from University of California, Davis.

For more about Biswas’s research, go to neews.egr.msu.edu .