The future of poultry production is built on digital, data and collaboration

The future of poultry production is built on digital, data and collaboration according to Kristof Mertens.

There’s no mystery about whether the chicken or the egg comes first when you work in the poultry production industry. The sector is driven by consumer demand, so the retail customer – whether that be a supermarket or fast food outlet – starts the process with their appetite for chicken. 

More complicated questions arise when working through the chain of stakeholders to ensure the right product is delivered at the right time in the most sustainable and cost-efficient manner. Whether it is geneticists, feed producers, breeder farms, hatcheries, poultry farms, processing plants or distributors, a lot of parties are involved. They all have something to add to the process, but are all too often restricted to their own “silo”. 

Collaboration is key

There are many global megatrends, including a growing population with more buying power; an increasing demand for meat; the need for better resource efficiency and sustainability; and the growth in Big Data, IoT and new analytics technologies, which are playing their part in how the industry develops. 

The entire value chain is under escalating pressure to increase sustainability, quality, traceability and improve efficiency and welfare standards, all while being free of antimicrobial growth promoters (AGPs) and complying with stricter standards and regulations across the globe. 

Meeting all of these demands, simultaneously, is not something one company, or even one silo of companies, can do on its own. It will require the adoption of new technologies and business models and will involve solving connectivity and security issues around data usage. Communicating more efficiently and sharing data appropriately is an important next step. The right partners along the production chain – from genetics to feed, hatchery, farming and processing, need to be involved at the right time. No one wants to see a nutritionist if day-old chicks aren’t in the condition expected, they want the veterinarian, for instance, or want to talk to the hatchery that supplied the day-old chick. This approach, which combines decades of expertise with connectivity for data, data sharing protocols and intelligent software algorithms, fits in under the umbrella of ‘Precision Livestock Farming’ (PLF). 

The livestock market is ready to take the leap forwards and adopt PLF at the core of the business process. This was proven by recent developments in the beef sector, where Zoetis, the world’s largest animal health company, recently purchased a PLF startup, Performance Livestock Analytics (PLA). It is believed that this acquisition will drive significant additional investment in the sector and really improve growth. 

Collaborative data platform 

To ensure the value chain can meet the trajectory for product delivery on time and at the product target weight or size – biggest isn’t always best – and consistency, information must be shared effectively. There is a lot of data available across the poultry supply chain, but it is not currently accessible to everyone who needs it at the right time. It is important for stakeholders to know what data they require, whether it is available and how it can best be used to optimize their stage of the production process. 

Data is a central resource for future improvements, but it cannot solve everything. More than 50% of the information required can’t be measured yet. This includes what is happening in the gut of each individual chicken, each chicken’s exact temperature and its bodyweight for example. These issues, and whether they require attention, are largely down to expert knowledge and experience, built on the data that is measurable. This approach works best when everyone, from climate specialists working on the environmental conditions, to the nutrition experts working on gut health to the veterinarians focused on general health and all the other experts maximize their impacts by combining their efforts. 

It would be great to break down the silo thinking and instead collaborate, improve offerings, and integrate poultry farming production to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together in one place. This can be achieved with a collaborative platform for the poultry industry to harvest the value hidden in datastreams and optimize the production. Now is the time to start. 

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