The IMAGEN and Breed4Food individual tracking symposium on automated phenotyping took place on Thursday the 29th of September at Hotel de Nieuwe Wereld in Wageningen. The programme consisted of presenters from a wide range of institutes, both from the Netherlands and abroad, and attracted more than 150 attendees. At 9.00 am the doors opened and visitors and speakers were welcomed by Piter Bijma, Esther Ellen and Malou van der Sluis of Wageningen University & Research (WUR). The official programme started with a short opening speech by Piter Bijma, after which national and international speakers discussed a range of topics, including computer vision, sensor technologies, dealing with big data, animal behaviour and welfare, and implementations in practice.
Given that it was a hybrid symposium, not all the speakers were present in person, but the combination between live and virtual interaction proved to work very well. The speakers used audio and video conferencing technology to interact with the audience, and the attendees – both in-person and virtual – were able to listen to the presentations and the discussions.
Automated phenotyping in animal breeding and genetics research
The main focus of the symposium was to engage in a productive dialogue about the use of automated phenotyping in livestock. Genetic improvements have been facilitated by high-throughput phenotyping. Simultaneously, animal product consumers – and the public in general – are becoming more interested in ensuring good animal welfare at all stages of the production chain. As a result, management practices and breeding technologies in livestock production are evolving, and developments in the field of precision livestock farming (PLF) now enable the use of automated phenotyping, both in animal breeding and in animal production.
Future of PLF technologies
PLF technologies (e.g. sensors and digital image analysis) were presented as an alternative to assessing welfare indicator traits by human observation, but further research is necessary in order to investigate how these technologies can best be applied at an individual level. Nowadays, livestock are often kept in relatively large groups, which makes it difficult to keep track of individual animals. However, individual records are not only important for assessing animal welfare, but also for the implementation of traits in breeding program. Some examples of automated approaches for activity tracking at an individual level (e.g. remote technologies and body-worn sensors) were presented, and throughout the day the audience was received plenty of ‘food for thought’ related to the use of sensor technologies. (For example, are the individual animals easily identifiable based on, for example, coat patterns, or are additional forms of identification necessary?)
There was plenty of opportunity for the audience to discuss the issues raised in the presentations; regular coffee breaks, a delicious lunch and drinks at the end of the symposium provided all the attendees with enough time for networking. Overall, the day stimulated research and dialogue about the use and development of individual tracking technologies and automated phenotyping.