Developed by Dr Arni SR Srinvasa Rao from the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, the model helped understand the movement of chickens and the amount of times and ways they crossed each others’ paths, and the likelihood of disease being spread.
Rao said: “We want to know whether we can predict the infectivity level of a particular pen from how the birds are moving. It’s a first step in learning more about how they spread infection and how best to address that.”
Infection costs poultry farmers billions of pounds every year with the parasite Eimeria easily spread among farm animals and sometimes humans. The pathogen causes an attack on the lining of the intestines, causing chronic diarrhoea, weakness and weight-loss in chickens.
Working in collaboration with Dr Fiona Tomley and Dr Damer Blake at the Royal Veterinary College and the University of London, Rao found that while it was likely that a farmer would isolate sick chickens, other birds would still get faeces on their beaks when they pecked the ground or when they took a drink.
Highlighted in the study was the way that chickens seemed to have distinct walking patterns and when chickens fell out of their usual patterns it indicated potential disease or infection amongst the flock. His goal would be for farmers to film their chickens (which most already do for security purposes) and, possibly through animation, translate walk patterns they see on the video without having to use a calculator.
Rao said he wanted to help farmers understand how long it took for the 3% of chickens who were infected to reach the remaining flock, giving them a chance to pick up infection and minimise loss. With treatment options limited for the Eimeria parasite because of resistance and cost, Rao said he hoped to eventually apply this model for the benefit of other livestock and poultry.