Automated analysis of chick chirps may ensure better living conditions
When it comes to farm animals being raised in subpar conditions, chickens often have it particularly rough. A new system that analyzes chick vocalizations, however, could help alert farmers (or authorities) when things really need to change.
Like most baby animals, newly hatched chicks initially call out to their mothers because everything around them is strange and unfamiliar. Once they settle into their surroundings, though – which includes finding sources of food and water – those distress calls usually taper off. If they continue over a long period, it means that something is amiss.
In order to ascertain if that's happening, UK scientists started by obtaining audio recordings of 12 groups of at least 25,000 chicks. Utilizing computer algorithms that measured the "spectral entropy" of the soundscape, they were able to isolate the birds' distress calls from background noises such as farm machinery and regular vocalizations.
It was found that in groups where the calls were particularly numerous and sustained over time, the chicks gained less weight as they grew up, and a larger number of the chickens ultimately died prematurely.
"What is particularly useful is that this welfare indicator can be used early on in life, whereas most chicken welfare indicators are taken later in their life when it is too late to make major improvements," says principal investigator Prof. Lucy Asher, from Newcastle University. "As an added benefit this study shows how we can measure chick calls automatically, meaning no extra work for farmers, but more information to help them improve chicken welfare."
A paper on the study – which also involved scientists from the University of Plymouth, University of Roehampton and Scotland's Rural College – was recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
Source: University of Plymouth