Working at the UCD Bioresources Research Centre, the researchers achieved a 97 per cent accuracy rate in experiments on identifying individual bird parts with barcodes.
The team which last year discovered they could identify individual sheep by their eyes and cattle by muzzle patterns, also believe they can identify laying hens by their comb profile.
Led by Prof Shane Ward, the group set out to find novel, accurate, tamper-proof and cost-effective systems to track and trace animals using among other things, biometric identification.
Biometric identification uses a physical characteristic that is unique to an individual such as a fingerprint, retinal or iris scanning and voice identification.
While laying hens do not have fingerprints, they discovered they have individual comb profiles.
The researchers developed specific biometric algorithms to isolate the comb profiles using mathematical modelling techniques.
According to a research update from Relay, which circulates research for the food industry, this method delivered an 84 per cent accuracy rate.
The group opted for barcodes for chickens and experimented with two types of barcodes, a miniature linear barcode such as we see on products we buy in shops and a two-dimensional data matrix barcode.
“They succeeded in printing the barcodes on to both beaks and legs of the chickens.
“The barcodes were read a number of times using a barcode scanner to assess its accuracy, speed and readability,” the report says. They also finetuned the best position for the barcodes and the optimal reading conditions for the scanner and the results obtained were promising with accuracy as high as 97 per cent.
“Although these experiments were carried out in the laboratory, real chicken body parts, sourced at poultry processing plants were used,” the research report continued.
“No animals were purposely culled for this research programme as per UCD ethical committee directives,” it says.
“In real life situations, ways will have to be found to imprint the barcodes on to live poultry whilst ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the bird,” it said.
The team has asked companies interested in the commercial opportunities to contact Prof Ward for more details.