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Sergio Guerra, Technical Systems Manager, Aviagen

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With modern technology playing an increasing role in the day-to-day management of farms, what can be learned from the huge volumes of data we generate as an industry? ‘Big Data’ is the buzzword of the IT and corporate worlds at the moment. It involves quickly collecting large volumes of data from a range of sources and analyzing it to make management decisions. But how can poultry breeders take advantage?  

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This quote by consultants W. Edwards Deming and Peter Drucker shows the importance of measuring and analyzing information. Data collected in the poultry industry allows managers to measure farm production trends, which ultimately leads to improved decision making and bird performance.  

See Also: Top Data Analytics Companies

Big Data has the potential to transform poultry businesses. It may even offer a stronger competitive advantage as the concept is slowly adopted. The Big Data revolution is more powerful than the analytics used in the past. We can measure, predict and find cause-and-effect relationships more precisely than ever before, allowing us to make smarter decisions. We can even target more effective support using accurate data analytics instead of “gut” intuition.

As tools to manage large amounts of data improve, conventional management practices will be challenged. Smart leaders will use Big Data as it was intended: as a management revolution. But becoming a Big Data enabled organization involves some challenges and requires hands-on leadership.

Immense Data Volume

As technology enables us to transfer information from farms, processing plants and hatcheries to corporate servers quicker and easier than ever before, the amount of information has increased exponentially. This vast information enables companies to work with a huge volume of data. By giving companies a better understanding of their own operations, this data, in turn, helps them better understand responses to production changes over time. Using this knowledge, they can repeat historical success without relying on research conducted in environments that often don’t reflect reality.

Increasing Collection Speed

Data collection speed is often more important than volume. 

Speeding up collection and analysis allows companies to respond to issues before they become bigger and more costly. However, farms in remote areas sometimes lack network connections, making it difficult to take advantage of the Big Data concept.  

Companies that successfully combine domain expertise with data science will undoubtedly outperform their competitors. 


Big Data is a conglomerate of information from sources such as weather stations near production farms, farm environmental control systems and hatchery machines. As computing costs continue to decline, data-intensive approaches are quickly becoming affordable.  

How are Poultry Companies using Big Data? 

As a primary breeder, Aviagen® has used data analytics to make breeder decisions for years and has recently extended data analysis services to its customers. We’ve created statistical software to analyze the immense data collected by our customers, investing in tools to:  

• Benchmark production results around the world.
• Estimate poultry nutrition requirements.
• Improve nutrition strategies despite the volatility of feed ingredient prices.
• Predict body weight at a specific target age.
• Statistically calculate flock and egg uniformity. 
• Analyze attributes influencing production to provide focused customer support. This analysis identifies factors that affect production and gives an impact value based on customer information.

Big Data doesn’t replace Human Know-How

While data allows us to identify problem areas that impact production, it does not replace skilled managers and consultants who deeply understand biological changes of the modern bird. Poultry companies will continue to rely on these experts to identify the greatest opportunities as well as challenges, and their experience will help guide the company toward a next plan of action. However, Big Data can greatly enhance the decision-making process.  

As the Big Data movement advances, the role of consultants will shift. Their value will lie in their ability to ask the right questions during analysis.  

Valuable Data Expertise

As data become cheaper, specialists who work with data become more valuable. A good example is data scientists with poultry backgrounds and other professionals skilled at working with large quantities of information.

Even though statistical knowledge is important, many key techniques for using Big Data are rarely taught in traditional statistics courses. The skills of cleaning and organizing large data sets are extremely important as data rarely comes in structured formats. Along with data scientists, new generations of database experts are bringing techniques for working with large data sets. Expertise in the design of trials can help close the gap between cause and effect. The best data scientists are comfortable speaking the language of the poultry business and translating the results in a way that others can easily understand.  

New Technology Skills

The tools to handle all aspects of Big Data have improved in recent years, and these technologies are more affordable than ever. However, the skills to integrate relevant internal and external data sources into one location for analysis are new to most IT departments.  

Connecting Data with Decision Makers

Effective organizations place information and decision makers in the same location. The best leaders create organizations with the flexibility to minimize the “not invented here” syndrome and maximize cross-functional cooperation. It is essential to connect the right data with problem solvers who understand the biological impact of their actions.  

Big Data Leads to Competitive Advantage

The first question a data-driven organization asks is not “what do we think?” but “what do we know?” Too often managers make decisions using intuition rather than facts. This question requires companies to realize they often pretend to be more data-driven than they actually are.  

There is no question that difficulties remain, as there are too few data scientists with poultry backgrounds to go around. The challenges are vast, and, of course, privacy concerns will only become more important. However, the benefits of the Big Data approach, both in technology and return on investment, are unmistakable.  

The evidence is clear: data-driven decisions offer significant advantages over the intuition approach. Companies that successfully combine domain expertise with data science will undoubtedly outperform their competitors.

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