The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville’s poultry house of the future is now ready for students and researchers, as the protein industry continues to modernize.
“It’s a facility that’s built around technology,” Dave Caldwell, director of the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science and head of the Department of Poultry Science, said in a recent interview. “It makes us more relevant.”
The Poultry Science Smart Farming Research Facility provides a test bed for research into modern poultry management and will give students hands-on experience with the latest technology — serving students in various courses of study from poultry production to animal welfare.
It opened in mid-May and is located at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Milo J. Shult Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fayetteville. Construction began in November of 2021.
The 16,000-square-foot poultry house has cutting edge technology with integrated systems that gather information on a variety of factions, including its interior climate as well as water and food intake by the chickens inside. All that data is stored on the cloud and updated every 15 minutes for up-to-the-minute analysis and is accessible through an app. The building is decked out with modern chicken rearing equipment — the technology even lets folks know when feed bins are running low.
Caldwell said the poultry industry is modernizing, and this tech, while vital for research, is also something program graduates will be seeing in the future on the job.
“This should give them a real leg up as they enter the job market,” he said.
In recent years, major poultry players, including Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc., have said digital data, automation and robotics will be key elements in their business in coming years. In December 2021, Tyson said it would invest $1.3 billion through 2024 in automation in a move to both increase production and to reduce labor costs.
According to the Little Rock-based Poultry Federation, a trade group of the poultry and egg industry, in 2021 Arkansas ranked third in the nation for broiler production. The state produced 7.46 billion pounds of broiler meat valued at $3.87 billion. Poultry is the largest commodity in Arkansas, with 6,500 farms producing some sort of poultry, with Benton County the state’s largest producer.
Caldwell said the smart farm would not have been possible without cooperation from industry partners, including a donation from global poultry breeding company Aviagen and matching funds from Tyson Foods.
Aviagen’s Group Vice President of Global Technical Operations Bryan Fanche, who graduated from the University of Arkansas with a Bachelor of Science in Poultry Science and a Master of Science in Animal Nutrition, spoke when the facility was dedicated last month.
“It has been an honor for Aviagen to help financially support construction of this exciting project and for me to personally participate in creating the unique house design concepts,” he said at the time. “This facility will generate important new research findings and, as importantly, will serve as an excellent training center to prepare students for the future of poultry farming. We look forward to seeing creativity and innovation prosper here.”
Other key elements for the project were equipment from Reliable Poultry, Diversified Ag, MTech Systems and D&F Equipment Sales and infrastructure funds from the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station.
“We couldn’t have pulled this off without them,” Caldwell said.