With African swine fever (ASF) forcing pig producers to keep one eye on their pigs and one eye on the unknown, a new app is helping them keep track of swine health and communicate with their care team.
The EveryPig aims to help producers manage and keep records of their swineherds. It was designed by Orange City, Iowa native, Chris Bomgaars.
He saw up close and personal throughout his youth how swine producers struggled daily to manage all their notes and their pig’s health, and then effectively communicate with their veterinarians. He set out to make all three of things a key focus in his app.
EveryPig started three years ago as a digital barn sheet app. Since then, it’s expanded to cover all different kinds of swine managing tasks. Bomgaar’s father started the Orange City Vet Clinic, and he followed his dad everywhere a vet was needed.
“My childhood memories were trying to help out dad and running calls,” he said.
Creating, expanding an app
Overtime, Bomgaars moved away from home and eventually stepped out of the agricultural field altogether. He attended college in New Orleans and eventually toook up residence in Miami, Florida. But, as many in the industry would say, ag never leaves for too long.
“Agriculture just wasn’t in the plans but it’s funny how we get back to our roots,” he said.
Bomgaars came back to agriculture 12 years ago when his father began investing in ownership of pigs, as the industry began to change. At the turn of the decade, it was a “go big or go home,” he said, and the mentality drove many to consolidation and expansion.
When his dad presented the ownership model, the younger Bomgaars, who has a degree in business, said was on board to come back and work with his family.
Over time, the family business, RC Family Farms, expanded. Both father and son struggled daily to keep up with animal health issues and communication.
Bomgaars noted that most of the pig caregivers he worked with used pen and paper to keep track of notes and only consolidated those notes monthly, which was just too slow.
On top of that, veterinarians and caregivers could only communicate at the pace of a car ride over to the operation, he noted. It was too slow for comfort.
“These health problems will spread incredibly quickly, and if they aren’t recognized in a timely manner it’s over,” he said.
The reality at the time, Bomgaars said, was that the swine industry was lagging in the technology game. Crops and even the cattle industries were being flooded with management apps. EveryPig came on to fill the void. The app now has 1,200 users, according to Bomgaars.
It’s helped streamline communication among caregivers. Consolidating notes is helpful, but showing those notes to veterinarians instantaneously has opened the doors to a new level of telemedicine that rural farmers need.
“(Vets) are receiving all the barn level information from the caregivers and able to respond from their office,” he said.
Along with features like managing feed, the app also allows caregivers to communicate via Google Translate. It helps ensure everyone on the team, regardless of language barriers, can effectively participate in the care of the pigs – something Bomgaars said was lacking in the industry as a whole.
“The caregivers are getting support from the field managers and veterinarians,” he said. “It’s really hard to get all of those different people on the same page.”
The app came online for public use last year. Its logo, which is a flying pig, has a special meaning for Bomgaars. It reminds him of the people who told him the app couldn’t be done effectively.
“Now we are making pigs fly,” he said.
With the app, Bomgaars said some people have even stopped themselves from shipping out unfit pigs and saved themselves the hassle of possible seven-figure fines. The biosecurity aspect of managing pigs’ health at the macro level is what he said will help producers feel safer during the African swine fever crisis.
“(The) situation is starting to open people’s minds to doing things in a newer, better and more efficient way,” he said.
So far, the app is available in five languages and has gone international. Up next for the team is a full integration of machine learning and AI, which in Bomgaars world does not mean artificial insemination.
AI – for artificial intelligence – exists in almost every aspect of precision agriculture, from yield data to auto-drive. For EveryPig, AI and machine learning have already been implemented but haven’t reached their peak potential.
It’s not about machines taking over, but machines can augment the user experience, Bomgaars said.
One of the app’s algorithms focus on mortality forecasting of pigs with just a 1% false-positive rate, or, in laymen’s terms, a 99% efficiency rating. The pictures are uploaded by the users and analyzed by the AI.
“(We’re) finding things like Mulberry heart (disease) in post-mortem images with a pretty high degree of accuracy,” he said.
The algorithm works and is efficient because of the endless data stream it receives. With more and more data, it can find patterns that are key to diagnosis and recognition. In its current form, the AI inside EveryPig can help a vet diagnose with an even higher degree of accuracy and use what they’ve learned more efficiently. Instead of driving to every operation, vets can diagnosis remotely and then visit the sites in most need of attention.
“When used properly, it will make them better at what they do,” he said. “Their most valuable resource is their brainpower, not driving around the countryside.”
When it’s all said and done, and the app runs as efficiently as possible for vets, caregivers and owners alike, Bomgaars said he’d like to see the swine industry shift away from a reactionary mindset.
“We want to move from a reactive environment and philosophy to a proactive philosophy,” he said.
The next step beyond AI and machine learning in Bomgaars’ vision is connecting the data the app collects with consumers to add more transparency to the process of raising food.
As consumers strive to learn more and more about where their food comes from, the app can help bridge that knowledge gap by showing exactly what has been done on the farm to keep it the food biosecure and safe.
In the South Dakota area, Polly Hoogeveen, formally of Cargill and Zoetis, has joined the team as an EveryPig ambassador working to get farmers on board. She has driven endless miles of the countryside and probably knows every producer in the area, Bomgaars said.
Whether it be local reps helping bridge the knowledge gap or Bomgaars himself, he said he’s excited to help producers get on board with the next way of precision agriculture – this time for pork.