Improving welfare with technology

[00:00:00] Welcome, everyone. This is AGcelerate. My name is Nikolai Shchetikhin. And I have Jim Johnson with me as a co-host. And we continue talking to Barrie Fleming today is our guest. Hello, gents. 

[00:00:25] So hey, Barrie, it’s really good to have you back on the on today’s show. And today, we want to talk a little bit more about a very important subject, subject, people talk all over the world about as far as livestock is concerned, its welfare. And so we want to talk about measuring and improving animal welfare with you today.  

[00:00:47] Yeah,I mean, it’s a very good subject and a very emotional subject. As you know, Jim, and Nikolai, it’s a great and challenging question, what is animal welfare. And one thing that a lot of people forget about is having to look at it from the perspective of a chicken. Because we really need to think about what that chicken actually wants and needs, versus an kind of anthropomorphic approach, an approach where people bestow human characteristics upon the chicken. Because a lot of welfare nowadays is driven by what the majority of consumers think, what the chicken needs based on their own perception and thoughts. And one example that springs to mind is the focus of letting chickens roam free in a field with the big focus on free range eggs, for example. And this can be incredibly stressful to a chicken. Because the chicken if we look at it originates from the jungle as a jungle fellow, and it’s used to the jungle climate. And then suddenly, what we’re doing is we technically throw them into an open field. And I know that things have moved on a lot from that. But we throw them into this open field, potentially, in a cold climate, when you’re used to this kind of jungle climate. And so therefore, it can be particularly stressful. On one side of the fence, the consumer thinks that that potentially is a good thing for the chicken. But on the other side, from the chickens perspective, that can be an absolute nightmare. 

[00:02:21] Yeah, sorry. And I was just wanted to ask you, because you know, what you what you’re telling right now, like I said, from the consumer perspective, it can be a little bit controversial, but from the nature perspective, it’s not what the right thing to do, or might be, right. And there are different types of like saying, like, what, what is welfare? So if you can just roll back a little bit and tell us what is welfare? And then we can continue with this? Yeah.   

[00:02:53] Yeah, no problem at all. So it’s I mean, welfare, when it really tries to crystallize it out is defined as the five freedoms which was initially developed within the United Kingdom following a 1965 report by the government, which was ultimately labeled the Bramble report. And here it was defined by brambles, five freedoms. So they looked at five freedoms that would define good welfare for our, for our farmed animal, and the freedoms where the animal should be able to get up, it should be able to turn around, it should be able to groom it should be able to lay down and it should stretch, be able to stretch its limbs, be it wings, be it legs. And so that was the kind of first crystallization that we had trying to define, in human terms, what would be good welfare for an animal, it’s since been further expanded, as time has progressed. And it was initially written into UK law, because that’s what I was aware of, in the 1970s was one of the first countries in the world to really define and set up animal welfare standards. And ultimately, welfare from an animal’s perspective can be measured by the level of performance achieved by that animal, via chicken, via cow, via whatever, and the agricultural animals and so put simply optimum welfare for an animal, if these boxes are checked, checked in and the animals welfare is met, will result in optimal performance. And if the converse is true, that animals that do not have good welfare cannot and will not perform well, even with various enhancers and things that have been used in the past. So poor welfare systems will definitely result in poor performance.  

[00:04:47] And it’s I think it’s also true for people right that if you happy, you can achieve more than if you’re not happy. Same works for chicken if they’re happy if the welfare is good, they will be able to perform better? 

[00:05:02] Absolutely. I mean, that’s never a truer saying than that   

[00:05:06] Like I like this whole thing about you know, it’s not Yes, you look at welfare and isolation is very much part of a modern husbandry approach and in order to, you know, get the best performance from the birds, but the to kind of go hand in hand for me anyway. And there’s a lot Barrie, of different systems. So there were, you know, in terms of welfare approaches free range, you’ve already mentioned, the different caging systems, Avery’s floor reared birds, etc. But what would you say is similar similarities are between these different welfare approaches? 

[00:05:42] Because as you said Jim there’s a whole plethora of different systems there. And they’re all kind od gauged as this is moderate welfare, very high welfare systems, etc. And there are very, very common similarities between these different welfare systems currently currently utilized around the world. And ultimately, what they focus on is meeting or exceeding the requirements of the chickens so that they can exhibit the behavior of free access to food, and do the normal, everyday events that we often do. For example, free range systems give the birds the opportunity to choose where they would be happiest. So if the weather’s quite nice, and there’s decent cover, they’ll go outside, if they feel threatened in any way, they will stay inside, so they remain in cover. However, this can sometimes introduce further unwanted problems, such as disease or predation, which can be significant problems in these higher welfare systems. And the irony is these were problems that were addressed or removed by what consumer views as lower welfare systems from the past and from the consumers perspective. And sometimes, ironically, looking at these systems, they did have some merits. And I’m not saying that any of them are perfect. And we can always improve them. But but there was some merits there. And that would save some of the compromises that we make now.  

[00:07:08] Right. And like we discussed on the previous episode, that lots of data is available at the farm at the houses. They It is used or not used by farmers and veterinarians. But are there any ways that for example, software companies can help using that data to try to understand what is best for the chicken which you can try to understand how they feel and what they talk about? Because it would be ideal, right? If they would just tell us, okay, I’m feeling cold, or I’m feeling hot, I feel dizzy or something, you know, because right now you need to you need to guess or you need to have some side factors that you use. So if we can use the data, what what do you think it would be how software can help?   

[00:07:56] I mean, I mean, this is, this is a great challenge Nik, and it’s currently a pioneering and developing area for software companies to to increase and improve welfare for for the chickens. There are many parameters that we can measure as, as we’ve touched on in the previous podcast, but scoring certain behaviors such as gait, feeding, frequency of feeding, mating behavior, activity of the birds, the spread of the birds, is there any playful behavior, which would show an ultimate level of happiness, things like that will be great indicators. If we can capture it, measure it, and then just map it out so that we can understand what what the flocks are doing a capturing this data, we can provide an arbitrary measure of welfare, and show that it’s actually good. So we can have even potentially a traffic light system, like red, it’s poor or something’s compromised, action required yellow, there may be a problem green, everything’s hunky dory and great. So it will afford the opportunity for us to check and see if there’s any environmental change. That’s having an impact to the birds or change in feeding behavior, stopping eating, feeder breakdown, etc. And all of this will add up and afford an opportunity for intervention in real time, in the real world. And one of the areas that’s developing that I think is particularly exciting, is the opportunity for RFID technology to be utilized and monitor a whole host of parameters and it can measure things like body temperature movement, and what the birds are doing times of activity where they are. So this would be of immense value and higher value stock such as breeders or higher up the pyramid and all that some of the premium breeding companies or using systems like that already. 

[00:09:52] Yeah, I mean Barrie, I am hugely excited about the opportunity to enhance welfare and monitor welfare and objectively Measure it using technology and some of the advances that have been made in the last few years in terms of cameras and artificial intelligence and stuff for me It actually doesn’t doesn‘t just measure welfare and if you think of a Stockman going in Yeah, when he’s going in a good Stockman will measure the welfare of the birds every time he is in the shed but he is not in the shed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So the opportunity to train some of this technology to be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week can truly understand bird behavior in relation to welfare issues really is fascinating. And, as I say, genuinely exciting. And we covered quite a lot in the last few minutes, we’ve actually gone from the the origins of of welfare and the Bramble report that takes me back not that I was in the industry in 1965. I hasten to add, but i wasn’t too far away from that. But But yeah, it takes me back and recollection the five freedoms and everything that’s been built on over the last few years a good starting point for this discussion. And then how we measure welfare and measure it through different systems now, and and you mentioned, you know, the the array of different systems and welfare offerings that are out there just now in livestock production, and it’s important, we don’t reinvent the wheel. You know, they all have certain pros and cons and narrow merits to these different systems. And we shouldn’t just reinvent the wheel. You know, one of the things that is fascinating is, in my career, having seen birds come inside from the range purely to, to help to help manage their welfare in many respects and the disease challenges and we know we were busy putting them back out there again, and having I hope not to reinvent and relearn these mistakes that were made many decades ago. But the other thing, as I say, really is the technology how how we can measure objectively welfare and how we can use technology in the modern day to support companies to treat their birds in a really positive way when it comes to welfare. So it’s been great speaking to you again, Barrie, really good discussion. And thanks for joining Nick and I on on the show today.  

[00:12:18] pleasure as always, and it’s been a joy interacting again.    

[00:12:22] Yeah, thanks, Barrie. I mean, it’s it’s great talking to you. And I hope that we’ll have you as a guest on one of our future seasons. And like for those who just joined us on AGcelerate here, we talk about agriculture and animals and problems and issues and topics. And we’ll also talk to specialists from the industry like Barrie, so don’t miss our episodes. And follow us on social media we on LinkedIn, on Instagram and on Twitter. And don’t forget to check our website. And once again, Barrie, thank you for joining us and see you soon.   

[00:13:01] Thanks, Barrie.     

[00:13:03] Yeah, cheers. Thank you.   

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