Research to determine if monitoring poultry farms with game cameras to help trace outside sources that increase the risk of Salmonella could also be applicable to monitoring farms’ risks of being infected with highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

Dr. Erin Cortus, associate professor and extension engineer at the University of Minnesota, offered insights on the research project that was conducted in 2018 and 2019 at six turkey farms in the state. Cortus spoke of that research at the Midwest Poultry Federation Convention in Minneapolis on March 23, 2022.

The purpose of that research was to set camera traps to monitor those farms’ risk and exposure to Salmonella, however, Cortus said that now that the season for wild bird migrations is upon us, and the United States is experiencing an outbreak of HPAI, those same principles could be considered.

During the initial research, three breeder farms and three growout farms were monitored with game cameras, which capture images when movement within the frame filmed occurs. These cameras have traditionally been used for wildlife monitoring by hunters, but Cortus said they have discovered other uses.

“We look at it as a new use for an old technology. Camera traps have been used for years in wildlife and agricultural settings,” she said.

The experiment was conducted during three seasons: fall of 2018, spring of 2019 and fall of 2019.

Scenes captured by the camera

During that time span, about 9,000 images were captured, some of which could offer insight to the potential spread of disease. The research team, which included a number of University of Minnesota students, then sifted through those images. Of the roughly 9,000 images, approximately 5,500 images contained at least one form of mammal, bird, human and vehicle traffic types. There were 73 images of mammals, 1,765 images of birds, 2,138 images of humans, and 3,547 images of vehicles. Other images captured movement of things such as tree limbs blowing in the wind.

Of the mammal images, about 80% of them were captured during nighttime hours, and included animals such as deer, cats, coyotes and racoons.

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Cortus also pointed out that in many of the images with birds, there were multiple birds present. However, she also noted that there may have been more bird activity during other unrecorded times because the camera could have been set up at an angle to where they would not be captured, or perhaps they were too far away to be seen by the camera, but could still be close enough to be a carrier. Most of the bird images occurred during daylight hours.

According to Cortus, some of the activity that was captured by the camera did coincide with when there were incidences of Salmonella in the turkeys in the barn, but she added that it couldn’t conclusively be determined that the birds in those images were responsible for the Salmonella cases.

Pros and cons of the camera tests

Cortus said the cameras helped them track activity from potential carriers, requiring less human time spent to monitor these facilities. However, there was still the task of reviewing the images the time captured, so the research was “not without the human element.”

While there is value to the images of human activity – whether it be farm employees or visitors to the farm – she said it is important to let those people with access to the premises to know that the cameras are in use.

“We do have to be conscious of maintaining security, but need to let people know that cameras are in use and respect their right to privacy,” she said.

She also pointed out that camera angle is “absolutely critical” in getting as many useful images as possible. She also said when more cameras are in use, the more images of differing activity can be obtained.

Read our ongoing coverage of the global avian influenza outbreak.