In an exclusive interview with GlobalMeatNews, Cargill’s digital lead for poultry Dries Tromp explained this new technological initiative and what it hoped to achieve.
“We are focused on ensuring birds can exhibit natural behaviors and are piloting projects that use technologies such as AI, including machine learning to help us better understand and monitor animal welfare,” he said. “For example, Cargill recently started recording audio in our poultry farms in China. In this new digitalised approach, we train a computer model to identify sounds made by birds. It can then be used to detect patterns and changes in vocalisations that indicate the existence of health issues before they are apparent to the human eye. Early detection of animal health and welfare concerns will allow for intervention to diagnose the issues and take corrective actions.”
Tromp said this research had been a long-term project for Cargill, and one that certainly required patience. “We’ve advanced this over the last two years. We use both farmer feedback and animal science to extract meaningful signs of health and welfare in a way that can be ‘understood’ by digital systems.
“Developing systems that work often is a lengthy process of trial and error. We’ve learned as we’ve tested the data and have also overcome dust and temperature fluctuations that come with working in a farm environment. Cargill is agile – we’re testing approaches that align with our commitment to animal welfare and provide even more insight to producers and customers.”
Although China was the market for the pilot, Canada would also be a focus for research, he revealed. “We are also piloting optical solutions combined with machine learning to detect health and other animal wellness related issues at some of our farms in Canada,” said Tromp.
Pilots are one thing, but when is it due to be rolled out across the world? Tromp said that even though it was constantly evolving, the technology was being introduced internationally. “This is a global initiative and we are in the early stages of testing different technology in different markets. We expect to continue to test and expand this program – Cargill’s global reach allows us to compare data, insights and approaches in different climates and countries. The reality is we’re expanding the technology as soon as we see a breakthrough.”
Tromp explained how this technology would aid Cargill and the entire poultry sector. “Animal behaviour data will provide Cargill even more real-time insight. Our initiative bird vocalisation analysis is just one example. As we advance that audio model, we may be able to indicate the existence of health issues before they are apparent to the human eye. Early detection of animal health and welfare concerns will allow for timely intervention to diagnose the issues and take actions.
“As Cargill delivers protein to the tables of the world, we understand and embrace our responsibility to ensure animals are treated with respect and dignity. It’s simply the right thing to do. With the rise of more accessible and affordable technology, a real opportunity exists for us to digitalise animal welfare.”