Gebhardt-Henrich, S. G., Stratmann, A., Stamp Dawkins, M. 2021. Groups and individuals: Optical flow patterns of broiler chicken flocks are correlated with the behavior of individual birds. Animals 11(2), 568.
Group level measures of welfare flocks have been criticized on the grounds that they give only average measures and overlook the welfare of individual animals. However, we here show that the group-level optical flow patterns made by broiler flocks can be used to deliver information not just about the flock averages but also about the proportion of individuals in different movement categories. Mean optical flow provides information about the average movement of the whole flock while the variance, skew and kurtosis quantify the variation between individuals. We correlated flock optical flow patterns with the behavior and welfare of a sample of 16 birds per flock in two runway tests and a water (latency-to-lie) test. In the runway tests, there was a positive correlation between the average time taken to complete the runway and the skew and kurtosis of optical flow on day 28 of flock life (on average slow individuals came from flocks with a high skew and kurtosis). In the water test, there was a positive correlation between the average length of time the birds remained standing and the mean and variance of flock optical flow (on average, the most mobile individuals came from flocks with the highest mean). Patterns at the flock level thus contain valuable information about the activity of different proportions of the individuals within a flock.