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Evonik to bring digitalization to chicken farms

Big Data boosts food quality and reduces use of medications.

The chicken farm of the future is fully digitized and uses intelligent sensors and integrated systems to generate optimal climate conditions. Animal health is continuously monitored, asking such questions as: What does the clucking say about the mood in the barn? Is the flock’s body temperature at a normal level? Are the animals eating and drinking enough?

Sensors and microphones provide information, while specialized software analyzes the collected data. In the event of questions and problems, a support system comprising self-learning artificial intelligence components can help.

Consumers get access to data as well; a wealth of important information helps create transparency about animal farming, breeding and slaughtering.

It will most likely take more time to establish these conditions, but the researchers and developers at Evonik have already started to work on so-called "precision livestock farming" (PLF) for poultry. The term stands for using digital technologies to employ knowledge and data in order to develop effective recommendations with verifiable benefits.

Based on its analytical services for amino acids, Evonik already has many years of experience with digital business models in agriculture.

“We are now linking our competency and innovation capacity in animal nutrition with modern digital technologies to create added value for customers and consumers,” explained Stefan Pelzer, head of the Gut Health & Diagnostics innovation unit at Evonik.

To this end, the company plans to dig deep into data — its own data, as well as data from scientific studies and from customers. The vision is for the Evonik PLF system to give meat producers precise information about the current condition of the animals in a flock and their development.

The necessary data will be recorded and evaluated automatically, with results readily available via an app on a smartphone, tablet or laptop. The system detects changes in important parameters in real time. The program provides daily recommendations for feeding and livestock management, with a primary focus on improving meat quality.

“The combination of digital technologies and product innovations enables increased productivity. At the same time, it substantially reduces the use of antibiotic growth promoters, which still are frequently being mixed into the feed,” Pelzer said. “Our goal is to keep animals healthy and raise them without any unnecessary drugs.”

Animal health is a top priority for Evonik's product innovations. The company's scientists consider the chicken gut a decisive element, because it is where feed is digested and where important immune functions are situated, with many infectious diseases originating in the gut. To better understand the complex processes in the digestive system, Evonik has been working since late 2015 to develop a gut simulation model within the scope of the Good Bacteria & Bioactives in Industry (GOBI) innovation alliance, which is funded by Germany's Federal Ministry of Education & Research.

The model is intended to reflect the interactions among feed, the immune system and intestinal flora and will enable the testing of feed additives such as probiotics.

Probiotics are living natural microorganisms that unfold their effect in the intestines. Their metabolic products have a positive impact on the composition of bacteria in the digestive system, strengthen the immune system and boost the resilience and health of animals. Evonik's portfolio includes a number of probiotics for animals, including GutCare PY1, which was developed specifically for use in poultry.

Evonik researchers are also working to develop quick and simple test systems that will allow for making an assessment about the health of commercial poultry. Evonik’s goal is to warn poultry producers when an infection is about to arise based on the new tests so producers can take suitable countermeasures at an early stage.

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