News and analysis on the global poultry
and animal feed industries.
on June 23, 2009

Going real-time on the farm

Putting flock data to work on the farm and at the complex level in a real-time fashion is the aim of new poultry house data collection and reporting systems.

Modern poultry production requires good management to get optimal performance. Good management results from a producer knowing what is going on in the poultry house at all times. Modern poultry housing has improved greatly over the last 10 to 15 years, and as a result, the control over the environment is the best it has ever been with influence over temperature, air quality, and lighting all of which can have significant impacts on poultry performance.

House environmental controllers are a crucial component in maintaining poultry environments at an optimum level while using labor and energy efficiently. However, it is not possible for a producer to be in each house on a farm 24 hours a day, so poultry farms have alarms in place to alert personnel when environmental conditions are outside of the optimum range. While all of this has worked well in the past, there is still room for improvement.

Not all of the data in poultry production is fully utilized, some of which is collected by the environmental controller itself. In order to make decisions people must have information, and the better the information, the better the results. The more timely information is received the quicker problems can be identified and corrected.

Limitations of prevailing systems

Currently, collecting information from poultry houses is done by multiple house visits throughout the day by producers and weekly visits to the farm by broiler flock supervisors. In addition to this, data loggers for temperature and relative humidity may be used. The issue with these methods is that the data is dated before reaching decision makers, with it being days to weeks old, and its collection can be labor intensive. For example, data loggers have to be retrieved, downloaded and the data analyzed, which mostly happens at the end of the grow-out period after the birds have been processed. At this point, the data is too late to help with that current flock and the same issues may not exist in subsequent flocks.

Modern environmental controllers have the capability of keeping records of various environmental and performance data that include but are not limited to high/low temperatures, water usage, alarm conditions, heater runtime, fan runtime and mortality. Much of this information can be viewed on the controller itself, but it is difficult to identify trends that may impact performance. A personal computer can be placed on the farm and connected to the controller, which adds graphing abilities and more data storage. But there is still room for improvement. Data utilization is still dependent on a user putting the information into charts and reports. Comparisons between multiple flocks and farms would provide useful information on trends in performance. However, it is difficult and in some cases labor intensive to use dataloggers, controllers or on-farm computers, and in many cases, additional software such as a spreadsheet application is required.

New real-time systems

Data collection/reporting systems are able to collect environmental and performance data from multiple farms on a continuous basis. It is then processed to become house status reports which can be sent to farm managers and company personnel on a daily basis via email. This information is also stored in a database either on the farm or at a remote site that makes it available so comparisons between flocks could be made.

Another benefit of such a system would be efficient utilization of resources for both the producer and the company. For example, a producer may have a routine each morning that involves going from house to house checking on environmental conditions, but unless an alarm has activated in the last house of their routine, that producer will not know about it until they visit the house several hours later. One possible application of a remote monitoring system would be to send the report to the producer each morning allowing them to identify potential issues and investigate them before they escalate into costly problems.

The same scenario would be applicable to company personnel as well. A flock supervisor may not be planning on visiting a particular farm until later in the week; however, upon reviewing a report on a given morning, he could communicate with the producer and rearrange the schedule to visit earlier. This would allocate company resources and expertise where it is needed in a timely manner.

The daily report displays data from the preceding week on the left in charts, as well as more detailed 24-hour data on the right in tables. The relative humidity (RH) in the houses on this farm was elevated and the red highlights for houses 3 and 4 indicate a problem where RH was greater than 80 percent, with the upper target being 70 percent. The yellow highlight indicates that houses 1 and 2 should be checked while the data does not indicate a critical situation, it is higher than the upper target of 70 percent, indicating that ventilation rates should be adjusted.

Most of the table values on the right-hand side will change color (yellow, red) if values vary from preset levels, which makes it very easy for the user to take notice of problem areas. If a problem is noticed, more detailed reports are available to further troubleshoot the problem. The type of reports and their layouts can easily be customized to the user's liking.

Data-basing information from multiple flocks makes it possible to analyze data for trends associated with good bird performance. As the data is collected, it can be used to tweak the settings to better report when conditions are outside of the normal range. This would be useful to improve farm performance in respect to seasons, bird age and even breed. The use of data collection in the past has basically been to identify issues that are having a negative impact on bird performance, but due to time constraints associated with processing the information into reports, little effort has been made to identify factors that are beneficial. Database information would make this process easier and more efficient to analyze for both the producer and company personnel.

Putting information to work

To improve performance and maximize resources, accurate and timely information is required. Modern poultry farms have a tremendous amount of information available but not collected or utilized efficiently, if at all. Poultry house data collection/reporting systems not only make data collection more efficient, they also put information into the hands of people that can use it in a timely manner so issues can be addressed before they become detrimental to performance and costly to correct.

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