French robot prowls the chicken coop so you don’t have to

The Tibot Spoutnic prowls chicken coop floors all day, every day,keeping chickens on their toes and at the peak of efficiency.

Spoutnic, a small autonomous robot, debuted this fall at SPACE, an annual French livestock show that focuses on new technologies.

Spoutnic is designed to take the place of people who monitor chickens, regularly walking the coops to keep hens moving so they lay their eggs in nest boxes instead of on the floors.

In coops dedicated to raising broilers for the table, operators try to prevent the birds from staying dormant for too long for similar productivity reasons. Broilers experience greater weight gains when they’re more active.

Employing a robot for this drudgery has obvious health benefits for the chickens and for the people, although displaced chicken coop walkers may not see it that way.

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Spoutnic is the brainchild of Tibot Technologies, a French company founded by a pair of poultry farmers who did not like walking coops and bending over hundreds of times a day to pick up eggs in an environment of dust and ammonia. Tibot says that a 24-7 Spoutnic reduces floor eggs by 23 percent. Floor eggs that aren’t gathered by human workers right away end up wasted because of food safety protocols.

Globalization has forced biosecurity into a priority issue. An animal raised in Canada may end up on a table in China or Europe. Even in developing nations where food takes a larger cut of families’ budgets, consumers are concerned about the safety of imported food. Keeping boots out of the coops goes a long way toward protecting chicken health by reducing potential exposure to outside pathogens.

Spoutnic programmers have to strike a delicate balance when it comes to keeping the chickens moving. They need to gently rile the birds to prevent lethargy, but they don’t want to cause panic. If they can get them to do the chicken dance, all the better.

The robot never stops moving. To prevent the chickens from becoming accustomed to a certain routine, Spoutnic is programmed to constantly change its playlist of music, lights, sounds and dance steps.

The machine also performs more serious tasks, such as spraying vaccinations, spraying disinfectants, monitoring chicken performance and marking locations of dead chickens. It produces a map depicting where it has worked and what it accomplished during each shift.

“The potential for this technology is tremendous,” says Lisa Bishop, spokesperson for the Chicken Farmers of Canada. “Farmers are always innovating and looking for new ways to take care of their birds, so this robot is a tremendous tool.”

Bishop says Chicken Farmers of Canada has a mandatory on-farm food safety program plus a mandatory animal-care program, that requires farmers to walk their barns three times a day.

“People check on the birds, check on mortalities and report on everything they see. We currently monitor ammonia levels, oxygen levels and temperature throughout the barns. This robot can give farmers even more information to help better manage their birds.

“If this robot can make a real-time map of where the birds are, it can tell us if they’re congregating in one spot. It can tell us how they’re interacting. It can provide our birds with the extra engagement the animal rights activists are searching for.”

Spoutnic is about the size of an automated round Roomba vacuum cleaner. It weighs 20 pounds, has four-wheel drive, six speeds and an eight-hour battery life. It’s expected to cost about $1,300.

Leonard and Kim Klassen have one barn full of layers and a second barn full of broilers at their farm near Grunthal, Man. They do a lot of barn walking. Kim thinks Spoutnic might be a good idea, but she’s skeptical.

“A thousand dollars (U.S.)? Is there a money back guarantee?” asks Kim.

“I’d like to see how it runs over straw and how it reacts with all that high humidity and corrosive manure. I’m doubtful.”

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