A UHF RFID System for Studying Individual Feeding and Nesting Behaviors of Group-Housed Laying Hens

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Li, Lihua
Zhao, Yang
Oliveira, Jofran
Liu, Kai
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Xin, Hongwei
Distinguished Professor Emeritus
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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Enriched colony housing (ECH) is a relatively new egg production system. As such, information is lacking on design parameters to ensure the well-being of the hens and optimal utilization of housing resources. A new system has been developed at Iowa State University that enables automated monitoring and quantification of feeding and nesting behaviors of individual hens in ECH. Ultra-high-frequency radio frequency identification (UHF RFID) is employed to track individual animals. The UHF RFID system consists of four components: antennas, tags, readers, and a data acquisition system. The antennas for monitoring feeding behavior are placed inside the two feed troughs and covered with plastic boards. Each feed trough has six antennas aligned in series covering the length of the feeder. Four additional antennas are placed inside the nest boxes to monitor the nesting behaviors. All 16 antennas are connected to five 4-channel readers, two per feed trough and one for the nest boxes, that are further connected to the hosting computer via Ethernet. Feed and water consumption and egg production are continuously monitored using load cells. This article describes the development and testing of the RFID system for monitoring feeding and nesting behaviors and provides sample data. The system has proven to be able to characterize benchmark feeding and nesting behaviors of individual hens in ECH, such as daily time spent at the feeder and in the nest box, daily frequency of visiting the feeder and the nest box, number of hens feeding and nesting simultaneously, and variability in these behaviors among individual hens. Future applications of the system include assessing the impact of resource allocation and management practices on feeding and nesting behaviors and on the well-being of the hens. This information will provide a scientific basis for optimal design and management of alternative hen housing systems.


This article is published as Li, Lihua, Yang Zhao, Jofran Oliveira, Wilco Verhoijsen, Kai Liu, and Hongwei Xin. "A UHF RFID system for studying individual feeding and nesting behaviors of group-housed laying hens." Transactions of the ASABE 60, no. 4 (2017): 1337-1347. DOI: 10.13031/trans.12202. Posted with permission.

Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2017