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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

RFID Enables Study of Chicken Pessimism

The smaller tracking devices become, the more applications they find.

  • March 30, 2012

The coolest thing about RFID chips – those ultra-cheap, ultra-tiny devices allow remote tracking, even without batteries – is that these qualities make them suitable for types of research that would otherwise be impossible. Or at least challenging.

This chicken is crying on the inside.

Other trackers have shrunk enough to enable research in a similar vein – remember bats equipped with ultra-tiny GPS receivers? – but implantable RFID chips smaller than a grain of rice are opening up even further horizons. Like the disposition of chickens.

Researchers at the University of New England in Australia are “taking a closer look at how chickens’ moods are connected to their desire to spend time outdoors,” reports the Armidale Express.

It seems that sans technology, measuring the emotional state of chickens isn’t easy. Most behavioral studies involve long hours of scoring either live behavior or videotapes of interactions. But using RFID chips allows researchers to automate the process of determining when chickens who are offered access to the outdoors take advantage of their “free range” status.

“[W]e set up a situation where birds have to make a choice and see if they make an optimistic or pessimistic choice,” says Geoff Hinch, the professor at UNE heading up the study.

Access to the outdoors turns out to be a good litmus test for chicken mood, because chickens who are feeling good will make the “optimistic” choice to go outside, says Hinch. The point isn’t to determine which hens should be put in chicken therapy, whatever that is. Rather, Hinch aims to understand which factors stress chickens, in hopes of figuring out how to make their well being compatible with high productivity.

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