Ya-han Tsai（China Productivity Center Agriculture Innovation Department）
A special report released in 2018 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the impacts of Global Warming of 1.5 °C indicates that, if the current warming continues to speed up, world average temperature may increase by 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, and extreme weather conditions will occur more frequently. One serious impact of global climate change is on food safety. In Taiwan, there is an increasing probability of heavy rains in recent years. The Natural Disaster Yearbook of the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction (NCDR) shows that five cases of torrential rain occurred in 2019, while the average number of cases between 2012 and 2018 was only two to three cases. All those cases caused considerable losses on agriculture, forestry, fishery and animal husbandry. In addition to the impact of climate change, traditional agriculture is faced with threats of the reduction of arable land and the aging and shortage of agricultural manpower. The advancement of science and technology has brought about the transformation of many industries, including agriculture. More and more agricultural enterprises and farmers are engaged in the development of smart agriculture, with the view of improving the quality and production efficiency of agricultural products.
Climate change leads to the growing temperature. Chickens, with their body temperature highly sensitive to the environmental temperature changes, are easily annoyed under high temperature, with reduced intake of feed and drinking water that leads to malnutrition. Their body growth, egg production rate, and egg weight are all affected, which results in poor health. In recent years, bird flu epidemics occur frequently in Taiwan and biosafety has become an issue. Consumers now have higher demand for safe and high-quality animal products. Therefore, the transformation of the poultry and livestock industries is important in response to climate change. The use of smart technologies for higher quality, efficiency, and better biosafety is an important issue now and also a major trend of the future development.
Poultry industry in Taiwan
The statistics of the Council of Agriculture (COA) shows that the total value of agricultural output in 2018 was about NT 526 billion, among which the total output value of the livestock and poultry industry was about NT166.6 billion, accounting for 31.67% of the total value; that of the poultry industry was about NT53.6 billion, accounting for 33%; that of the livestock was about NT73.7 billion, accounting for 45%; and that of the livestock and poultry by-products was about NT35.3 billion, accounting for about 22% (of which livestock accounted for 8%, poultry accounted for 14%). Chicken farming is the largest sector in Taiwan’s poultry industry. There are 6,259 chicken farms in Taiwan with about 100 million chickens. Of these, 2,968 mainly raise native chickens, followed by 1,853 farms raising layer hens, and 903 raising white broilers. The second largest sector is duck farming. There are about 2,600 farms raising about 8.97 million ducks, among which 1,905 farms raise mule ducks, followed by 395 farms raising layer ducks. The total number of chickens raised in Taiwan is about 100 million, with about 40.97 million of them being layer hens, accounting for 40.6%. The layer hens are raised in three formats, i.e. in open space, in high cages, and in closed water-curtain negative-pressure cages. According to the statistics of the Poultry Association of the Republic of China, in 2016, about 82.7% of the layer hen farms are in the format of traditional open farms, 15.9% use high cages, and 1.4% use fully closed water-curtain negative-pressure coops. In 2017, the traditional farms accounted for 84.9%, high cages about 11.2%, and closed water-curtain negative-pressure coops about 3.9%. It can be seen that although the traditional farms with high demand for manpower still dominate, the proportion of the style of water-curtain negative-pressure coops has increased significantly.
Smart Poultry Farming
Traditional poultry farming is mostly done in open space, with environmental conditions difficult to control. The manual operation makes it hard to keep comprehensive record of production and relevant data. Disease conditions are not immediately noticed to have rapid control. The productivity and yield rate cannot be effectively and stably improved. The Council of Agriculture started to promote the smart agriculture project in 2017 by integrating cross-disciplinary state-of-art technologies (e.g. IoT, ICT, and big data analysis) to introduce data collection by sensor components and provide the farmers with a more efficient operation and management model. Many poultry operators have adopted the new closed water-curtain negative-pressure coops to replace traditional poultry coops of low efficiency and poor epidemic prevention effect. In addition, Taiwan’s poultry farmers have adopted many smart agricultural solutions with automated facilities and equipment and achieved higher efficiency from production, slaughtering, processing to marketing. These include the poultry production big data analysis model system, the intelligent continuous incubation system that increases the incubation rate from 86-89% to 90-93% and incubates 100,000 eggs at a time with less human control, the intelligent breeding technology, the intelligent automatic environmental control poultry house monitoring management system, the intelligent native chicken monitoring and management system that raises the breeding rate by 5%, the intelligent flexible egg moving system that handles 210 cartons per hour and reducing 25% of the operating time, the automatic feeding and discharging management system for the marinating barrel storage, and the intelligent duck egg processing system. Here is the case of the first intelligent native chicken farm in Taiwan as an example of the development of smart poultry farming in the era of agricultural technology.
Leadray Livestock is a well-known native chicken farming enterprise in Taiwan with more than 30 years of experience of operating a whole system from breeding, raising, slaughtering, processing to marketing. In response to the threat of frequent avian influenza outbreaks, Leadray Livestock in 2011 started to renovate the chicken coops located in Erlin, Changhua by replacing the traditional canvas structure with the closed water-curtain negative-pressure chicken coops. In 2017, Leadray, in the COA project of smart agriculture and poultry, started cooperation with National Ilan University to build the first domestically-made smart chicken coop. Multiple environmental sensors were installed in the front, middle and back of the coop to collect data of temperature, humidity, ammonia, carbon dioxide and litter humidity, etc., to detect the internal air quality and humidity and automatically start the fan, adjust the water curtain, and spray to cool down when the environmental monitoring value exceeds the settings. Through the intelligent system and computer control that incorporate experience and equipment, different parameters can be adjusted according to the age of the chickens. The chickens can grow in the best environment at every stage of their growth, and the stress on chickens caused by the temperature fluctuation between day and night and the drastic temperature changes can be reduced to the minimum. In addition to the protection of the chickens from the external environment, all the personnel entering the chicken coop must wear special shoes, hats, clothes and get sterilized so that the risk of avian influenza can be minimized in the intelligent epidemic-proof chicken coop.
Chicken farming operators used to rely on experience to judge the health conditions of the chickens. However, the shortage and aging of agricultural practitioners has made this even more difficult to continue. An automatic chicken weighing system has been introduced, which, with an automatic sensor of feed and water supply, monitors the growth status of chickens and plots daily weight gain curves. Operators monitor chicken weight gain, feed supply, and feed conversion rate through the mobile APP system. In addition to feeding monitoring, a self-propelled poultry disturbing robot is used to provide the function of disturbance of chickens so that they move about once in a while and do not get sick by sitting too long. The robot moves around the entire chicken coop according to pre-set parameters and routes so that chickens are made to move and exercise and maintain their physical health and eat and drink more frequently. One of the small contract farms of Leadray, HowFortunate Farm, for example, adopts the closed water-curtain poultry house and automatic feeding system. The entire farm is on the flat ground so the chickens can move freely on the ground and perch. It is a layer hen farm certified of humanity and production traceability in compliance with the animal welfare codes of the European Union and other countries. Many contract farmers are family businesses. Through the introduction of the intelligent farming system developed by Leadray, the younger generations taking over these businesses have invested in smart agriculture, incorporating the experience of the older generations, and inheriting the 60-year chicken farming business through technological integration.
This first intelligent native chicken coop has integrated the years of experience of poultry operators with the environmental control parameters of the intelligent system, so that it can be easily passed on to the younger generations. This is helpful in solving the aging of the working population and the shortage of labor, poor farming experience, insufficient access to breeding information, and demand for disease prevention. And the physical stress and disease suffered by chickens can be minimized, so the quality and safety of the meat is assured. The livability is increased by 5% and cost of poultry meat production per kilogram is reduced by NT$9.63. The efficiency and quality of poultry farming management in Taiwan is considerably improved.
In addition to Leadray Livestock, we have participated in several smart agriculture projects and visited a number of poultry breeding farms since 2019. The improvement on the poultry coops and the related technologies has attained certain achievement. In the childhood memories of many, poultry farmers need to prepare feeds for chickens, pick up eggs, clean the poultry coop, and prepare a large pot of hot water before slaughtering chickens. After slaughtering, the scalding, hair removal, gutting, etc., would take about 30 minutes or more. These scenes are no longer seen nowadays. Chickens now may grow in the closed air-conditioned poultry coops. During the visit, the development of Taiwan’s poultry industry to smart management can be witnessed, and we are assured of an environment where farmers can produce with peace of mind and consumers can buy with confidence.