A new robot that collects stray eggs in poultry sheds, so that the farmers can spend their time otherwise. Wednesday, the chair group Farm technology presented how this is done.
Currently poultry farmers spend one to two hours a day on collecting eggs, says Bastiaan Vroegindeweij, PhD researcher for Farm technology. ‘This is physically demanding and unhealthy work.’ The stray eggs have been a problem since 1990. Since then the traditional – inhumane – battery cages were banned and in many farms chickens got the chance to walk around freely. ‘About 99.5 percent of the eggs end up in the nests’, says Vroegindeweij, ‘ but the other half percent takes up a lot of time.’
The researcher wants to relieve the poultry farmers from this job. For this he uses the same technology as self-propelled cars. The robot determines its location based on its own movements and by scanning its surroundings with a laser. In the meantime the robot software ‘searches’ for eggs on camera images. The test robot can already collect eggs, says Vroegindeweij, but it still needs to be developed further. For example with bright light it sometimes overlooks eggs and some eggs break.
However, collecting eggs is only the beginning. Poultry farmers will constantly have ‘eyes and ears’ of the robots amongst the chicken to keep an eye out for sick animals. Also the humidity and temperature can be tracked locally. ‘I can think of thirty to forty applications’, says Vroegindeweij. But I expect that the egg collection function will be enough to motivate farmers. A simple calculation: a robot that replaces one hour of work a day per stable, saves a company tens of thousands of euro’s.
Besides, it seems that the robots do not form a threat to animal welfare. ‘Chickens get used to it really quickly’, says Vroegindeweij. Moreover, the farmers will have to enter the sheds less frequently. Especially the unpredictable movements that people sometimes make could cause more stress. The PhD researcher expects to have the prototype in 1,5 years, which will then be adapted to a real product.
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