Chris Bomgaars grew up in Orange City, Iowa. In 2008, he saw an opportunity to join the family pork production business. The venture was successful and scaled from about 30 farms to over 350 farms and started raising over 1.5 million pigs per year (2018). As the company grew, the problems went from spiking death loss to upraising caregivers’ complaints. In search of an answer to his company’s issues, Chris searched for a market solution, but none existed. That’s when EveryPig was born, a first-of-its-kind pig health and production management platform.
For the last two decades, farming in the US has changed a lot. Small companies merged with bigger ones to survive. The sector moved to the contracting basis. It means that farm owners became growers. In terms of the new system, they own buildings and land, but their production belongs to the contractor company. In return, contractors provide feed, veterinary and transportation services.
RC Family Farms is a typical contractor company. They have a wide infrastructure, serving more than 350 farms. Among their responsibilities is providing veterinary care for animals. If the farm owners or caregivers report health issues, the company has to provide the treatment on time.
Chris Bomgaars joined RC Family Farms a short while after graduating from the university. It is a family business, and he was helping his father to develop their company. He had been working there for almost a decade, and their growth was successful.
Though at some moment, Chris realized that the company's scale wasn't under control. Incoming complaints from caregivers evidenced the serious challenge: "They would let us know about a health problem, and for one reason or another, we didn't respond to that health issue quickly enough."
On the other hand, veterinarians were often called to come to the farm when the diseases were spread out, and their work often seemed to be as if they were putting out a fire. The miscommunication between vets and farm growers (who will be called the caregivers further) led to more dead pigs, which is bad for a number of reasons, obviously financial, but also for animal health and welfare.
Investigating the Problem
The deep dive into the problem showed that veterinarians couldn't react on time without receiving the actual pigs' health data. The information based on paper barn sheets and check-ups went too late to the office. More often, caregivers sent the summary reports at the end of the week, mentioning the sickness and mortality statistics.
Chris was looking for any helpful tool to organize the communication, helping them to track the health issues and receive responses on time. But he wondered to know that there wasn't any relevant software for that moment.
The Solution Design
The absence of the desired platform on the market encouraged Chris to build a custom software solution. His essential advantage was a good understanding of the user portrait, their background and expectations.
The main priority of Chris was to digitize the recording process of the data, used by various stakeholders. He acknowledged that the user flow should be as simple as possible, not requiring lots of technical skills.
Soon after, Chris found a partner, Nick Bartlett, who had helped him outline the product requirements and deliver the first version of the UI/UX prototype. Working on it, they came up with the patterns familiar to their users from the real world:
- The Daily Check-ups, which operate as a short survey.
- The Farmfeed, close to Facebook's news feed view.
- The Electronic Barnsheets, eliminating the paperwork.
With daily check-ups, caregivers were enabled to provide veterinarians with meaningful data: symptoms, water consumption, temperature and medications usage. Along with that, they could attach photos and videos (pictures of pigs or the environment) to the daily check-ups. Receiving it on time, veterinarians can make a diagnosis and recommend the treatment.
Based on the design prototype, Chris managed to develop a working demo with his team. While testing it with the veterinarians and caregivers, he came up with new insights. There was one critical concern related to the quality of diagnostics:
Hence, Chris envisioned one more point to add to the product's value. Besides real-time communication, the platform would ensure a high-quality diagnosis and mortality forecasting.
The pilot project had been tested with stakeholders of RC Family, and after gaining feedback, moved to a product launch phase.
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Choosing a Vendor
Building business-class software requires many development resources. Besides sales and marketing campaigns, the founder has to oversee the technical processes. To make their work more efficient, Chris decided to outsource the software development to a digital agency.
In the fall of 2016, Chris had many meetings with the potential contractors, and eventually, he decided to move on with the Brocoders. He explained the criteria of choosing our team during his presentation on tech meetup in Sumy: "You know, if you are a non-technical guy, you will always be missing some crucial details, which technicians already are aware of. You can lose your confidence in the product while talking with some of the software developers. The reason is the big ego of programmers, who don't have enough skills to level up with your background. But with Brocoders, I obtained peer-to-peer communication. Their team guided me at those points that I lacked, so we worked smoothly".
Launching a Product
Our first task was to refine the project's MVP and help Chris prepare for the sales operations on the market. Ultimately, we were required to accomplish the following work:
- Refine the UI/UX based on layouts provided by the EveryPig team;
- Ensure the streamlined work of the features in a browser;
- Implement cloud data storage for media files.
To complete the first release of EveryPig, we allocated this team to the project:
Project manager, leading a development process
Front-end developers, accomplishing code of the UI design
Back-end developers, working on architecture design and API
For the AI-based part, Chris engaged another software development team specializing in Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. We often communicate with them in terms of back-end integrations.
From the very beginning, our team was provided with the fully documented requirements and designs. We showed good progress; however, we faced some challenges:
Confusion with the timezones
While developing the daily check-ups, we discovered a significant issue. In some cases, the submitted reports showed the wrong date, mainly of the previous one. We received this claim from an early customer of EveryPig. Their farms were located in different US states with various time zones. So, if the caregiver was behind the vet's timezone, the daily check-ups were recognized as of yesterday.
For the service app, which implied real-time communication between the stakeholders, it was a crucial issue. Our back-end developer tackled this problem. He applied the UTC offset and added the geolocation feature for each farm account. When registering a farm to the platform, an admin could view the recommended time zone and approve it. So, the multi-zone support helped EveryPig avoid confusion between the dates and showed the actual time and date corresponding to a user's location.
Low Internet connection in the rural areas
Poor cellular coverage is a common problem for many farm locations in the US. This problem would slow down the growth of EveryPig since it is sensitive to the Internet connection. To make it possible, we implemented the offline mode for the web application. With this feature, caregivers can submit a daily check-up when they don’t have a stable Wi-Fi connection or stay in an area with poor cellular coverage
Graphic rendering on the user side
EveryPig makes it possible for veterinarians to expand, scroll and annotate the pictures added to the daily check-ups. Using these features, veterinarians could faster analyze and send their feedback regarding a new case. However, this opportunity has some cost, as it requires advanced rendering in a browser.
We utilized a few React.js libraries, which helped us save our time for the development. React Image Gallery and React Images Viewer provided us with enough components to accomplish this work.
Now veterinarians comment on the uploaded assets, review the images of dead pigs and help with symptoms and diagnosis.
We developed the project iteratively using the sprint system. Each sprint lasted three weeks. By the end of it, we presented new features. This helped Chris issue new product releases faster and report on functionality updates to his customers and partners.
All the processes were tracked with Trello and Jira management systems. Usage of these tools allowed Chris to view the current progress and oversee the entire work.
Our project manager established a few conference calls per week with our client, discussing the development work. They held their communications over Skype and Slack.
Once we finished the first product release, Chris invited 198 users to the platform. 38 users completed their registration and began using the system in a month.
There was one successful case that helped his early customer to get the real benefit from the product. EveryPig helped them to indicate the serious disease and prevent its further spread.
We keep working on the EveryPig, adding new features and providing full technical support to it. Ever since we started its development, the product has been significantly modified. Now it combines the features helping automate not only the treatment but the whole production process:
- Mortality forecasting;
- Automated reporting;
- Smart suggestions;
- Inventory tracking;
- Site visit reports.
At present, EveryPig's cloud storage holds over a million pictures from various companies, helping its AI module to predict mortality and stop disease outbreaks.
Integrations with external service APIs
EveryPig tracks the time and distance between farms and other destinations. These data are passed to EveryPig Logistics because they are required for shipment (migrations) purposes.
This service app is based on hardware devices placed in the barns. They track the high/low temperatures as well as water usage and send it over to the server. We connected to their API and used the data within the EveryPig system.
MetaFarms and FAS
Client companies used these software products before moving to EveryPig. They kept their vet statistics there. The information came in from faxes sent by caregivers. Upon the client's request, we managed with the export of statistics from EveryPig. The data they need to use arrives at their systems daily.
Since its inception, Everypig has significantly expanded with new functionality. It now includes the features pertaining not only to veterinary but production management and delivery. One of the most extensive parts of EveryPig is a Logistics Scheduling module, which automates the shipment processes for managers of the production companies.
Created specifically for the pork production industry, EveryPig is used by more than 1,550 producers and veterinarians in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. The web app is currently available in seven languages: English, Portuguese, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and French. Production and veterinarian teams across the globe that need to enable their remote-work capabilities can request a complimentary demo of EveryPig’s platform.