Products & Solutions

Big Data in poultry farms

It’s one of the most urgent food-related issues of our time: How can we produce meat from fewer resources while also improving animal welfare? One answer to this question is precision livestock farming. In line with this approach, Evonik is bringing biotechnology and big data into poultry farming.

The global population is constantly increasing - and the global demand for poultry is growing with it. Radical change is needed if the demand for meat by the world’s burgeoning population is to be met without putting too great a strain on the Earth’s resources and ignoring animal welfare. One of the solutions to this urgent food issue is precision livestock farming, or PLF for short. It’s a mix of big data, new networked technologies, and a holistic understanding of ways to keep animals healthy. Evonik is bringing PLF, and thus major change, to poultry farming.


At the Evonik laboratory in Halle-Künsebeck, the biotechnologist Dr. Emeka Igwe performs a feat that astounds even experienced farmers: The curving lines on his monitor tell him about the health of a flock of chickens - not only at the moment but also what it will be like next week. This feat is made possible by a new testing method from Evonik called ScreenFloX®. This technique analyzes telltale genetic fingerprints to identify pathogens in chicken dung. The process is similar to the way forensic experts detect traces of DNA at crime scenes. The bowel disease called necrotic enteritis alone costs poultry farmers billions of euros per year. “With this new process we can detect an outbreak of disease five days before it occurs,” Igwe says. Until now only antibiotics were the only recourse, but today poultry farmers can use gentler methods.


“Precision livestock farming aims to achieve a holistic understanding of animal welfare and to make forecasts that are as precise as possible,” says Professor Stefan Pelzer, head of research for Gut Health Solutions at Animal Nutrition. Pelzer and the Belgian company ProDigest have developed an important tool for this purpose: the Dynamic Avian Intestine In-vitro System (DAISy). DAISy uses a cascade of glass containers to precisely simulate the microbiological processes in chickens’ guts. “Medicine has learned a lot about how the intestine and its microbiome influence human health,” says Pelzer. DAISy is helping Pelzer and his team to gather data and findings that will make it possible to reduce the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry to a therapeutically necessary level and instead to reinforce the animals’ health by means of probiotics - for example, with a formulation that makes chickens resistant to necrotic enteritis.


Probiotics are only one of the many different elements of precision livestock farming. Animal feed is another one. For many years now, Evonik has been supplying feed additives that enable animals to utilize their feed more effectively. Evonik is one of the leading producers of the amino acid methionine. It also supplies other amino acid products that compensate for deficits in the feed of dairy cows, fish, and shrimp. In addition, Evonik maintains the biggest database of the amino acid content of fodder crops worldwide. Customers benefit from this knowledge thanks to a smartphone app. Feed manufacturers can even have their raw materials analyzed within minutes by means of near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy. Farms that use Evonik’s feed additives and feeding concepts significantly reduce the strain on the environment. If the entire sector operated this way, in the future it would be possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 60 million tons, reduce the amount of farmland by 17 million hectares, and cut nitrogen emissions by six million tons.


“Advanced feeding concepts, the targeted inclusion of nutritional and functional feed additives, the strengthening of the animals’ intestinal systems, and the optimization of farming conditions - all of this helps to make animal husbandry fit for the future,” says Pelzer. He hopes that this holistic approach will succeed in making meat production more sustainable and reduce its environmental impact. Everyone will benefit from this in the end.

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