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Automatic Broiler Foot Health System Needs Further Refinement

16 January 2013

BELGIUM - A prototype system for automatic dermatitis assessment needs to be improved on several points if it is to replace expert assessment of footpad dermatitis although there was good agreement between the two systems in average flock score.

Average flock scores did not differ greatly between automatic and expert scores, according to new research at the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO) in Melle. However, the prototype system for automatic dermatitis assessment needs to be improved on several points if it is to replace expert assessment of footpad dermatitis.

Those are the conclusions of R.F. Vanderhasselt of ILVO and co-authors there and at Ghent University in a paper published this month in Poultry Science.

They said that footpad dermatitis is increasingly used as an indicator of decreased broiler welfare, and automation of dermatitis monitoring potentially reduces the effort needed to monitor commercial flocks.

In this study, they evaluated a prototype system for the automatic assessment of footpad dermatitis in broiler chickens by comparing the automatic assessment with a human expert assessment. The expert aimed at selecting twice (at different times) 20 broilers per footpad dermatitis category (five categories in total), from two different flocks of 38-day-old broilers on an experimental farm.

Two days later these broilers were transported to the slaughterhouse, where footpad dermatitis was assessed by the automatic system. Subsequently the footpads were reassessed by the same expert that had selected the birds.

Automatic scores were only weakly correlated with scores given by the expert on-farm (r=0.54) and at the slaughterhouse (r=0.59).

Manual evaluation of the photographs on which the automatic system based its scores revealed several errors. For 41.1 per cent of the birds, the automatic system assessed only one of the footpads; for 15.2 per cent, neither footpad was assessed.

For 49.4 per cent of the birds, scores were based on partially incorrectly identified areas. When data from such incomplete and obviously incorrect assessments were discarded, stronger correlations between automatic and expert scores were found (r=0.68 and r=0.74 for expert scores given on-farm and at-slaughter, respectively).

Footpads that were missed by the automatic system were more likely to receive a high expert score at slaughter (P=0.02).


Vanderhasselt R.F., M. Sprenger, L. Duchateau and F.A.M. Tuyttens. 2013. Automated assessment of footpad dermatitis in broiler chickens at the slaughter-line: Evaluation and correspondence with human expert scores. Poult. Sci. 92(1):12-18. doi: 10.3382/ps.2012-02153

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