5 questions with ‘smart’ farmer David Speller

U.K. broiler farmer takes technology to the next level.
Melanie Epp
May 15, 2019
By Melanie Epp
David Speller is a broiler farmer, founder and CEO of OPTIfarm and owner of Applied Group in the U.K.
David Speller is a broiler farmer, founder and CEO of OPTIfarm and owner of Applied Group in the U.K. Melanie Epp
U.K. broiler farmer David Speller is the proud owner of a ‘smart’ barn that takes technology to the next level.

For instance, he uses robotics, monitors and sensors to track water usage, odour changes in the barn and flock behavioural change as a result of lighting programs. He also shares his experiences with poultry technology at events and owns two service companies, OPTIfarm and Applied Group.

Which monitors and sensors do you currently use?
Standard equipment includes monitors for temperature inside and out, relative humidity, air pressure, air volume, CO2, water and feed intake. Moving forward, we are real-time ammonia sensing and gathering data from robotic platforms so we can see the whole barn. As the robots move through the birds, we analyze bird droppings, improve thermal image utilization and apply automatic gait scoring.

We have a lot of image data, either special cameras for behavior or security cameras for basic analysis of drinker heights, feeder heights, feed in pans, bird spread and bird activity. Sound analysis will be here soon also, as well as far more complex software to consider all the data we can gather and work out the interactions between the various data sets we can see currently, as the picture is too complicated.

Of the sensors and technology you’ve implemented on farm, which one couldn’t you live without and why?
Visual cameras. All the data is lovely, but you get a lot from an image. A picture paints a thousand words, as they say.

Which tasks do you still prefer to do yourself?
Culling sick animals is a challenge. We can collect the dead and identify sick birds, but to actually take a life without human judgment might be a challenge morally for consumers, and technically for the engineers.

How can embracing technology help farmers?
Customers for our business are getting bigger and want scalable solutions – technology allows that. Customers need more attention to detail as margins tighten. Technology and its data can give new knowledge. Consumers should see this as an opportunity for openness. If we are truly proud of what we do, we should start to open up using technology and let the consumer see what we do. Hopefully, like us, they will like what they see.

If you could give Canadian poultry farmers one piece of advice about implementing new technology on farm, what would it be?
Start by trying to answer a question you have, not one a salesman says he can answer for you. Many can be answered very cost effectively with some good advice from an independent source. Then, once you are making more money, decide on the nice-to-have options available in the market. Of course, even basic technology needs someone to spend time evaluating it and making recommendations for change.

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