2012-08-14

Co.Exist

Making Factory Farming Smarter

Large-scale farms might be impersonal and industrial, but they aren’t particularly technologically advanced. New software could help them manage their chickens better, and maybe be a little nicer to them in the process.

The world of factory farming sometimes seems like a well-oiled, slightly nefarious machine. It can be. But it’s also surprisingly old-school, with many of the giants only now starting to leverage technology to make their operations more energy and time-efficient—and in some cases, more animal-friendly.

Take Dirt Road Data, a supplier of distributed automation systems for water, agriculture, and energy markets. The company recently teamed up with ThingWorx, a rapid application development platform, to create Verif-Eye, which the companies call "the first cloud-based solution for remote agriculture command and control, driving smarter decisions in poultry farming." What, you may ask, are smarter decisions in poultry farming?

It’s all about "connecting sensors, actuators, and other devices that monitor the conditions within the poultry-growing lifecycle to applications that run on the Internet to help the farmers be more productive," explains Russ Fadel, CEO and co-founder of ThingWorx. So for large poultry organizations like Tyson and Pursue (two of Dirt Road’s customers), that may mean looking at data from ThingWorx apps to determine the optimum chicken-growing environment that can produce the most amount of meat using the least amount of energy and feed.

One ThingWorx app monitors feed usage and output, another collects information on the hardness of egg shells, and in the future, apps will measure external factors like temperature and humidity, all analyzed against the overall productivity of the farm. "Historically [this data] tends to be manually collected and analyzed weeks later," says Fadel.

Ruthlessly efficient? Sure. But for those who can afford it (no word on exact pricing), this kind of data could be just as useful for small, organic farms. Like it or not, we’re moving into an era of techno-farming, with large-scale data collection, light therapy for cows, feed pusher robots, and 3-D cameras. If we’re going to factory farm chickens (and we really, really shouldn’t), we might as well do it as efficiently as possible.

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