We live in the era of data. Poultry farms are no exception to this, with more data than ever before available and collected. The days of knowing how much your birds have eaten simply because the feed silo is empty are, or at least should be, a thing of the past.

In the modern poultry producing environment, those poultry farmers that have invested in technology and on-farm computers have access to all the automatically collected data necessary to ensure good production levels. This  information can include, for example: feed intake, water intake, body weight, egg production, egg weight, climate and ventilation.

The more data that we collect, the more useful information we have at our disposal - or at least that is the theory!

The value of interpretation

Yet the very information that is most important to keep farms running in the best possible way can sometimes become lost because of the growing volume of data available. Data without proper and timely interpretation are simply data. It does not offer insight into finding solutions to possible problems.

One of the remedies to this issue is to produce descriptive graphs, but spending hours interpreting these graphs is perhaps not the best use of the farm manager's time. Time spent on interpretation is not the only issue when dealing with data analysis.

Importantly, poultry farm managers are dealing with one of the most complex production processes that exist - living birds - with their own genetics and physiology. No two chickens are the same; they all respond a little differently to their environment. Consequently, detecting problems as they start to emerge can be particularly challenging.

Daily data collection

Most managers conduct post-factum analysis, collecting data on a weekly basis. From this, weekly averages can be calculated, and the performance of the flock over the preceding week is evaluated.

However, taking this approach means that detection of problems is later than it could be, and potentially avoidable losses cannot be prevented.

To better understand what is going on in the poultry house, and consequently have greater control over production processes, data need to be collected in real time and looked at on at least a daily basis.

However, real time data collection and daily examination only address part of the issue, and it does little to reduce the burden of having to deal with statistics and the time that this consumes. However, there are now tools that are able to learn how birds behave under normal conditions and are able to detect problems at an early stage should they start to arise.

Looking forward or looking back?

These tools are able to process and analyze data and predict if something is about to go wrong, offering insight into what is happening in various processes. These systems are able to alert producers to which hen house, division or farm needs direct attention.

In some ways, once good data is easily available, a virtuous circle is created: good data comes with good management, which itself facilitates the collection of good data. The two are a partnership, and for this latest type of technology to fully deliver the advantages it inherently holds, it must be used hand-in-hand with good management practice.

But what does this really mean?

In layer management, for example, good management practice can be gauged reasonably well from the discipline applied to daily egg collection. Even a quick examination of the hen-day egg production numbers (laying percentage) can reveal a lot about the basic management approach at a farm.

For example, in Figure 1, the hen-day production results of two layer flocks in two different farms are compared. The manager at Farm X will have a good idea of the production level of his birds since he collects eggs every day at around the same time. At Farm Y, there is a significant variation in collection time. This variation gives production rates of over 120 percent on one day and less than 60 percent on another, making it impossible to know what the real production rate of the flock is.

Greater knowledge, of course, allows action to be taken, and this can translate into improved margins.

Ease of use

But even the best management tools in the world are of limited value if they are difficult to use. However, the latest generation of management devices automatically collect relevant data, perform analysis and directly provide feedback. This feedback can be displayed on a dashboard (see Figure 2). Additionally, should a problem be detected, an email alert can be sent directly to the farm manager.

A further advantage of the latest generation of poultry house management tools is that the information they generate can be accessed at all times from anywhere via Internet-enabled devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets.

Importantly, these tools are platform independent and can be retro-fitted to older systems. Systems dating back to the mid-1990s are working with these tools as long there is an Internet connection.

Because the data generated are language independent, today's generation of management tools have no language or country barrier. This lack of a language barrier further means that in addition to the farm manager, all stakeholders in the poultry farm can be granted access to the analysis.

Not only does this help to ensure that more eyes are focused on performance, but it also facilitates more informed discussions on where improvements need to be made.

This can be particularly helpful on large farms to engage staff and ensure that all are working toward improved performance.