This seminar was taken by Dr. Kat Herbor, who is a research associate from Newcastle University. The topic for this seminar was how thermal imaging can be used to monitor the psychological welfare of chickens.
When caring for animals of any species, it it important to ensure that they are as healthy as possible. Psychological health is included in this, as if an animal is placed under stress, its overall health can suffer due to disease and other illnesses. Addressing these problems can be problematic and controversial, but new advances in thermal imaging may be about to change the way that psychological welfare is looked at.
Chickens can be victims of stress from many causes from noise levels and sudden changes in temperature and substrate conditions. If left unmanaged, the chickens can have a higher level of disease and overall mortality.
The research looked into how thermal imaging can be used to measure and monitor acute and chronic stress in chickens, with the hope of eventually using it in agricultural settings to improve the welfare of farmed birds.
As a relatively new technology, it is less invasive than current methods, which have involved measuring hormones and the behaviour of the animals. The previous techniques can actually cause more stress to the animals as when measuring hormones, blood tests are required. The increase in stress due to being handled and having blood tests taken may impact on results, meaning that they are not as accurate.
Using a thermal imaging camera, Kat was able to detect acute and chronic stress in the chickens, as when an animal is experiencing stress, its core temperature increases and the skin temperature decreases. The level of change depends on the stressor, but if left undetected the increase in core temperature can cause health issues over the long term.
Using a thermal imaging camera is noninvasive, meaning that the levels of stress measured are a truer indicator of the animal’s stress levels.
The next research that was undertaken was to see if a change in the environment would cause the chickens the most stress.
This was done by setting up two different nesting sites, one that was at ground level and the second that was raised off the ground. Thermal imaging was used again to measure the welfare of the animals.
The results of this showed that the nests at ground level caused the chickens to undergo more stress, possibly due to the ground level nests offering little protection from predators.
This seminar really opened my eyes to the potential uses for technology in animal welfare. This was the first time I had seen them used in this manner, as previously I had seen them used to track wild animals.
Whilst I am interested in animal welfare, I have little interest in following it as a career path. I do find it interesting however that this method could one day be used to ensure that animals in captivity are as healthy as possible