Plans to transform broiler farming with a scalable, automated welfare indexing and environmental footprinting system have received UK government financial support.
NetFLOX-XXL is an AI-powered remote broiler farm management system, which will use advanced AI to improve productivity, sustainability, and resilience in the broiler industry.
The project, which has received just under £1 million from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ Farming Innovation Programme, will build a scalable industrial demonstrator system, helping the industry to improve welfare outcomes and move closer to net zero.
Created by Flox, an early-stage AI company, the system is designed to provide poultry farmers with real-time data on their flock’s welfare and alert them to potential signs of disease. Advanced cameras and environmental sensors monitor the chickens 24/7 while the AI scans for unusual behaviour.
Flox also monitors the environmental health of sheds, with the system helping prevent the types of climate swings that can cause flock health to be affected. It monitors and adjusts the environment to prevent costly heat-stress events and alerts farmers to any issues around higher than normal ammonia temperatures, for example.
The AI can also accurately estimate bird weight and temperature ensuring that, if necessary, farmers can make changes to feeding programmes or spot signs of disease immediately.
The team at Flox includes chairman Andrew Maunder, who grew and sold Devon-based processing business Lloyd Maunders to 2 Sisters and now chairs the RSPCA’s chicken standards technical advisory group, and Dr Sarah Lambton, lecturer at Bristol University in poultry welfare and animal farming systems.
Lambton said the work could enable farmers to identify problems such as uneven weights of high levels of lameness earlier and put tailored solutions in place.
As well as receiving government funding, investment has also come from Morado Ventures, a seed-stage venture fund. Founding partner Ash Patel said: “The magic of Flox is that the tech is in the software, rather than in some large robotic structure that might require a huge up-front investment. The entire system is 4k cameras that tie into the company’s AI in the background. It’s about as easy to install as a home security camera system and comes with a monthly subscription.
“A farmer with dozens of chicken sheds each with thousands of chickens might only visit each shed location once a day – if that – and that doesn’t give them much data. Plus, they’re relying on what they happen to notice at a moment of time. Flox gives farmers a proverbial gold mine of data on the health and comfort of their chickens.”
Patel added that the company was also well positioned to take advantage of an important trend – the ability to show objective data certifying the ethical treatment of animals.
Katrina Hayter, UK Research and Innovation’s Transforming Food Production director, said there were huge opportunities for innovation across the food sector: “From animal health to crop productivity, the introduction of strategic support technology and the precise application of chemicals, it’s exciting to see so many concepts beginning to come to life.”