If you’re a responsible farmer, keeping your animals healthy is about knowing whether or not they’re happy—or unhappy. Doing so can be a challenge, especially if you have a ton of creatures to care for. And let’s face it: They’re animals. They can’t exactly tell you whether they’re happy… or can they?
With the help of artificial intelligence, they actually can. A team of scientists from City University of Hong Kong created a new AI that can accurately detect distress noises from chickens. In a paper published in The Journal of Royal Society Interface on Wednesday, they said the tech could identify distress calls from chickens with up to 97 percent accuracy. The tool could be employed on other animals and livestock too in order to boost welfare practices in the farming industry as a whole.
“Our end goal is not to count distress calls, but to create conditions in which the chickens can live and have a reduced amount of distress,” Alan McElligott, an associate professor of animal behavior and welfare at the City University of Hong Kong and co-author of the paper, told The Guardian.
The team trained their AI on a set of recordings of chickens that had already been classified by humans (real chicken noises, not the Bluth family’s versions). Then they made the tool listen to a recording of chickens on a large farm, using it to identify how stressed the animals were. The AI was able to separate the distress calls from all other noises and accurately detect when the chickens were anguished due to factors like overcrowding, not getting enough food and water, and attacks from other chickens.
The team now hopes that the tool will be rolled out to farmers within five years to help them better care for their animals. Not only do they have an ethical reason to do so, they have a financial incentive too, according to McElligott. In fact, distress calls made by young chicks correlates to the amount of weight it could gain over its lifetime, according to the researchers. The noises can also help predict the amount of deaths a flock might experience.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to convince the farmers that have to deal with producing these animals for a set price for supermarkets and everyone else to adopt technology to improve their welfare,” McElligott explained. “But we’ve already shown that distress calls are a good indicator of mortality and growth rates, and this is a way of automating the process.”
The AI has even caught the attention of animal rights activists, with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals praising the tool. “Technology such as this can be incredibly useful in monitoring and improving the welfare of farm animals, but we wouldn’t want to see this replace physical inspections or reduce stock keeper-bird contact, as this could lead to a loss of stockmanship skills, or birds that are more difficult to handle,” an RSPCA spokesperson told The Guardian.
So with AI translating their clucks and squawks, chickens have a bright future ahead of them—at least until they end up on your dinner table.