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‘Smart’ poultry facility at UA research center

Jan 31, 2024Jan 31, 2024

The poultry house of tomorrow is ready for research at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture's Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

The Poultry Science Smart Farming Research Facility was designed to provide innovations in precision poultry production and to train students. The facility has integrated systems that collect data on water and feed intake and climate conditions inside the house. The "smart farm" is connected to a cloud-based data storage service that is updated every 15 minutes for quick analysis through an app.

Internet-connected sensors allow researchers to analyze how birds perform at certain house temperatures and even order feed when the bin is low. The nearly 16,000-square-foot facility has floor pens equipped with commercially relevant rearing equipment.

A grand opening of the Poultry Science Smart Farming Research Facility was held on May 15 for industry partners who contributed funding and in-kind donations to build the state-of-the-art facility for broiler research, poultry science education and outreach.

Groundbreaking was held in November 2021. The facility was made possible through a donation from Aviagen; equipment gifts from Reliable Poultry, Diversified Ag, MTech Systems and D&F Equipment; and matching funding from Tyson Foods, along with infrastructure funds from the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.

"As a land-grant university, we have a three-part mission that we are mandated to cover -- research, extension and education -- and when I look at this facility and what it embraces, it covers all three parts of that overall land-grant mission," said Deacue Fields, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System and head of the Division of Agriculture.

Speaking to a crowd of about 40 people, mostly industry partners, Fields said the project exemplified the Division of Agriculture's core values of integrity, collaboration, accountability, relevance, and excellence.

"When you compete, there is a winner and a loser. When you collaborate, there are winners on all sides. And that's what we are trying to do here," Fields said. "In times where budgets are tight, there is no way we could have even approached building this facility without partnership and collaboration, and we really appreciate what that means to the Division of Agriculture, our researchers, our students and the state."

Fields said the facility would help maintain the poultry industry as the state's No. 1 agricultural commodity and the state's position as a top poultry producer in the nation.

"There's no question that this facility is the most sophisticated poultry research facility in our state, and some of the elements are unique to universities," said Jean-François Meullenet, director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and senior associate vice president for agriculture-research for the University of Arkansas System. "That should position us very well with leading research in poultry production and nutrition and allow for quick adoption of our research findings by the industry."


Dave Caldwell, director of the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science and head of the department of poultry science, said the project started with Tyson Foods in 2017 with support to renovate seven facilities. Aviagen stepped forward to match the required funding to complete the smart farm. Caldwell said Reliable Poultry agreed to collaborate early in the project's development by donating all the rearing equipment, such as feeders and waterers.

Caldwell expressed his appreciation to the industry partners, noting how the facility will impact the state's poultry industry.

"We're excited to bring this project to fruition and this facility online," Caldwell said. "There is a lot of advanced technology in the house. It's going to allow us to collect data rapidly, in real-time, and analyze data quickly.

"That's a major impact for our research program, but also it's going to allow us to train our students and expose them to a lot of modern technology going into poultry houses," Caldwell said.

Chip Miller, senior vice president of live operations for Tyson Foods, said the Arkansas-based company has a long history with the Division of Agriculture in research, teaching and collaboration and sees the facility as "the way of the future."

"The technology and data this state-of-the-art facility can provide will help us continuously improve our processes and give us the tools to move the poultry industry into the future," Miller said.

Bryan Fancher, group vice president of Global Technical Operations for Aviagen, said the company officially sponsored the project in February 2020 following a September 2018 meeting with Division of Agriculture administrators. He said they sought help with a new broiler research house to do floor-pen research and accommodate a wide range of experimental designs.

"We were interested in that idea, but we also thought we'd like to do something different that not all of the poultry science departments have out there," Fancher said. "So, we switched to thinking about having smart-farm capabilities, even beyond the research, as a training bed for students to learn these technologies they're going to have to deal with once they get into the industry."

Fancher called it a "cutting-edge facility" that will expose students to new technologies and help outreach and "enhance capacity in several research focus areas, including broiler nutrition, management, welfare, and environmental quality.

"We look forward to seeing a lot of creativity and innovation prosper here," Fancher said.

To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow the agency on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch.

John Lovett is with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.

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