Sunday, February 25, 2024

What can a Fitbit and artificial intelligence tell you about the presence of woody breast?

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By Dr. Denise Heard

Special to Poultry Times

TUCKER, Ga. — Scientists at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture have been awarded a research grant from the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association and the USPOULTRY Foundation for their proposed work on detection of woody breast using accelerometer technology, which is the technology used in Fitbits.

Principal investigator, Dr. Casey Owens, professor of poultry science, focuses her research on meat quality defects such as woody breast and white striping in broiler meat. She developed predictive models for detection of woody breast in broiler carcasses using image analysis in a previously funded USPOULTRY grant. Co-principal investigator, Dr. Yan Huang, assistant professor of animal science, focuses his research on skeletal muscle development in livestock and poultry. Co-principal investigator, Dr. Qinghua Li, associate professor in the University of Arkansas Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, conducts research in mobile sensing, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. He has used various sensors on mobile platforms to develop anomaly detection and machine learning technologies to address challenges in multiple disciplines.

“The broiler industry has been challenged with a condition referred to as “woody” breast for the past several years that can affect a significant proportion of products,” said Owens, who is also the Novus International Professor of Poultry Science at the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture.

“It is a condition that develops early in life and becomes more pronounced as birds get closer to market age. It results in compositional changes within the meat, namely an increase in collagen and fat, which further impacts meat quality,” remarked Owens.

Woody breast has lower water holding capacity and decreased binding ability in further processed products. Cooked meat texture alterations can be rubbery, tough or crunchy.

“The result can be substantial economic losses for the poultry industry,” Owens noted. “This issue can cost the industry millions of dollars annually due to lost yield, increased processing costs for more labor to sort product and lost business because of customer dissatisfaction.”

Owens stated that the ability to detect woody breast would be beneficial to the industry. Hence, she teamed up with Li and Huang to use technology from the world of fitness and health monitoring for an application in the poultry industry.

“Woody breast must vibrate and transfer vibration differently from a normal breast,” Li said. “Modern accelerometers have high resolution, as shown in various health applications, and should be able to capture such differences when combined with machine learning.”

Preliminary data suggest that muscles can present varying vibration patterns via accelerometers depending on degrees of woody breast severity. It is likely that muscle with fibrosis/scar tissue (indicating woody breast) and normal muscle have rather different mechanical properties that would lead to differences in vibration patterns.

“Development of tools that the industry can use has been an interest for us,” Owens said. “We will have the ability to use this technology and combine it with other measurements that we have assessed for woody breast predictors, such as bird and carcass dimensions and fillet hardness.”

“This proposed research is novel, unique and has the potential to provide a useful tool to the poultry industry in detection of woody breast in the live broiler and in fillets,” Owens added.

There is a great deal of ongoing research to determine root causes of this condition in broilers. Developing a more predictive method of identifying birds in the field would allow better selection of animals for research and breeding programs.

Owens added that on-line process control is a developing area for poultry processing, because it can allow processors to have more real time process control. The use of online assessment tools to predict woody breast would be beneficial to processors for its ability to sort fillets, segregate and divert woody breast away from premium whole muscle products into more suitable products, like patties, nuggets, etc.

This study offers a novel and unique approach that has not been used in previous studies. Little is known about the cause of the condition, and this has stimulated the poultry industry to conduct research to determine the cause and find solutions. Continued support of research in this area is a top priority for USPOULTRY and the USPOULTRY Foundation.

Dr. Denise Heard is director of research programs with the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association based in Tucker, Ga. She can be reached by e-mail at

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