My research interests include communication between birds and fish, social hierarchy formation, animal consciousness and animal welfare. I have particular interests in putting welfare research into practice and in the relationship between good welfare and the immune system.
Together with Steve Roberts of the Department of Engineering Science and Christl Donnelly of the Department of Statistics I have been developing a computer/camera system for life-long monitoring the welfare of chickens called OpticFlock. OpticFlock works by analysing the statistical patterns made by the movements of chicken flocks. We have shown that it can detect anomalies in flock movement that reveal welfare issues such as lameness and can predict future problems in birds of only a few days old, before clinical symptoms appear. It can even pick out flocks at risk of becoming infected with Campylobacter days or weeks before the bacteria can be detected by standard culture methods. OpticFlock has been successfully trialled on over 200 commercial flocks in the UK and Switzerland and has been running for of a farm in Arkansas, USA since December 2020. We are now about to start a trial in Hungary. The work has been supported by the BBSRC and the EPSRC and we have a grant from the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR) to develop it for commercial use. We are hoping it will provide a tool for farmers to improve the welfare of chickens across the world.
In 2021, I published The Science of Animal Welfare: Understanding What Animals Want Oxford University Press and I am now working on a new book on animal consciousness.
More details or research and publications can be found at https://users.ox.ac.uk/~snikwad/index.html