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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  • Arianna Marshall

    Factory Farming is a not in the best interest of society as a whole. 80% of antibiotics used in the USA goes to factory farming. And it causes super bugs to thrive. Researchers can not develop antibiotics fast enough to stop this public health problem.  The antibiotics are given as preventive treatment. But they are not really preventing disease in the birds, but the profits of companies like Tyson and Perdue. It is a extremely high number of birds that infected with salmonella and e.coli when they get to market. 

     And, please do not forget the damage factory farming does to the precious  land, when the factory farmers spray the waste product on the ground. It  is not good for the land. It runs off the land into the streams and rivers and pollutes the land and the water. Then, the large producers of birds for market, (birds that arrive to market with diseases), leave the pollution and destruction for the people to clean. So they take their profits to the banks, and normal citizens pick up the tab for the clean up of the pollution.

    Factory farming is not good for the health of the people, land, or water. Factory farming is good for the profits of Tyson, Perdue, and Cargill.

  • Raw Team

    for choosing to look at the issue of factory farming Ariel but there are three
    fundamental problems with the article.


    farming as impersonal

    To describe
    factory farming as impersonal is a severe understatement. At RAW (www.raw.info), we look at the true cost of
    factory farming from a number of environmental, economic and social
    perspectives, and it’s clear that factory farming is a failing system of food
    production. From the rampant wastage of precious resources to biodiversity loss
    and pollution to the unbridled use of antibiotics (particularly in the US),
    factory farming is a whole lot worse than ‘impersonal’.


    farming as innovative

    To frame
    anything to do with factory farming as ‘innovative’ is dangerous territory
    indeed. The term ‘innovation’ is synonymous with ‘doing something better’, and
    we have a tome of evidence showing that factory farming does nothing better. We
    need to look at the whole value chain to understand the problems inherent with
    factory farming – tinkering at the edges won’t change its fundamentally
    inefficient nature. Efficiency isn’t just about producing the ‘cheapest’,
    lowest quality meat and dairy as quickly as possible – you have to factor in
    the external costs of production. And you talk about ‘ruthless efficiency’, but
    this is only half right. Factory farming – efficient? Nope! Ruthless?
    Absolutely. Ruthless in its treatment of animals, ruthless in its treatment of
    farmers, ruthless in its use of the earth’s precious resources and ruthless in
    its treatment of the public and the habitats in which we live.


    farming as inevitable

    You say that
    whether we like it or not, we’re moving into an era of techno-farming. This is
    a huge assumption, and implies that we are all powerless individuals, incapable
    of choosing the food and farming that we want. Well we don’t believe that. We
    think that food is one of the most important things in our lives, and we all
    have the choice – three times a day – to vote for a better food future. A
    future that shirks the archaic notion of factory farming in favour of positive,
    practical solutions that deliver delicious, nutritious, humane food for all.


    And we’re not
    alone in thinking this; people and organisations with wildly different
    interests – from animal welfare to environmental protection to international
    development to food safety – are all united in their view on industrial
    livestock farming – it doesn’t work. There is a better way. Technology has a
    clear place in farming, but it must be used to do good things better, not do
    bad things worse.

  • Susanr613

    I'm surprised and disappointed to see this article in the CoExist section. A "distributed automation system" for making animal production efficient further dehumanizes the process and will not make anything better for the animals. Even though they are born to be made into food, they are still living, feeling animals who deserve as little pain as stress as possible during their short lives.

  • Lora Stabbit

    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."

    Please explain cost/benefit here. Small, organic farms tend to have razor thing margins and little mechanization. And that lack of mechanization is often a feature of a healthy agricultural environment rather than a defect.

    Sure, increasing efficiency could mean protecting slim margins, but it could also mean a wasteful investment for a farmer who's equity lies entirely in her soil, house, and livestock. What mom and pop is going to buy this, who's going to install it, and what data is it actually going to deliver that a good farmer can't already track?

  • Johanna Scott

    I'm disappointed to see Co.Exist sharing "innovations" in factory farming. It seems against what you guys stand for - innovation to make the world a better place. This is innovation to make the man more money (and harm more animals) - which actually harms humans if you look at the bigger picture. This is "cheap" food that comes at a huge cost to all of us.

    Let's look to problem solvers who are doing the right thing in farming - and not necessarily achieving bigger, faster, stronger production levels.

  • veganforever

    Let's NOT factory farm chickens or any other animals either. Rather let's examine the truth behind factory farming, intensified meat production, and industrialized slaughter and ask ourselves, "Are we better than this?" Yes, we are. Please visit  www dot chooseveg dot com.

  • veganforever

    I shared my comment, so where is it? Are we censoring unfavorable comments today?

  • veganforever

    Let's NOT factory farm chickens or any other animals either. Rather let's examine the truth behind factory farming, intensified meat production, and industrialized slaughter and ask ourselves, "Are we better than this?" Yes, we are. 

  • Bea Elliott

    I totally agree with you Janet Weeks - The only thing that factory farming has done is make profits for the growers. And "cheap meat" for consumers. Calling it "techno-farming" is just the same thing with a different name.

    43 days from being hatched to being "processed" - How horrible. More unacceptable still is that this flesh isn't necessary at all to human health! It's just 8.5 billion little lives devoured for the sake of gluttony and greed.