A new app to transform the way small scale farms operate

Sometimes, ideas can strike in very odd ways. We want to share with you the entire process of creating an app from start to finish and all the bits that happen even after you think you've finished.

We wanted to share with you the inspiration for the new product we are developing. Sometimes, ideas strike us in very odd ways. We wanted to share with you the entire process of creating an app from start to finish and all the bits that happen even after you think you've finished.

In this series of blog posts, I will share everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, when it comes to working on developing an app. Where I can help, I will give as many tips as possible, and of course, show our Baseflow methods of working and problem-solving.

The idea from the app originates from an unlikely source—my brother in law, who is a goat farmer. While farming and technology often collide, this is not an area I had much experience with. I didn't know much about farming or how smallholders operate. But the technologist in me was sure there could be better ways to work.

My brother in law keeps around 2000 goats which he and his team milk twice a day. Besides milking the goats, they also make rounds through the stables and check the health of the animals. When somebody sees an animal that is showing signs of sickness, the animal is diagnosed and, if necessary, treated. Per stable, a logbook written with pen on paper is kept, and every inconsistency is manually logged. My brother in law reads through the notebooks (three stables means three logbooks) to try and get an overview of the current state of his livestock.

As you can imagine, going through the logbooks manually is quite a time-consuming effort, difficult to monitor the health of individual animals or to discover trends over the livestock. These thoughts swam around in my head. There is room for a digital solution here.

Advantages of record-keeping at a farm

It is crucial to keep data about your livestock.

- Helps in preparing pedigree and history records of animals;

- Helps in analyzing feeding cost and benefits from animal product outputs. Hence helps to formulate economic feeding strategies for optimal productions;

- Helps in the detection of abnormal conditions, or disease status of the herd that leads to a loss in body weight, loss in milk production;

- Helps in finding the commonly occurring diseases in the herd and thus to formulate in time precautionary measures like vaccination and to deworm;

- Assists in overall better supervision and management of the herd;

- To compare the herd performances in different years to determine the amount of profit/loss each year and setting future goals/directions for the farm.

When the farmers and shepherds can digitally record information about the animals at the moment they are walking through the stables; the data can be used to solve the following questions:

Provide a real-time overview of the health status of the livestock; Easily monitor the health status of individual animals; Provide the team with reminders on when and how to treat diagnosed animals.

I know this is not the only application out there that can help farmers. But I wanted to put my spin on it. In fact, there are a lot of applications created by big agricultural companies that offer record-keeping functions. But they are for big organizations and massive operations. I'm interested in sustainability and farming in a way that serves my community. And that's what I want to develop into my app.

How might we help smallholders improve their processes with a digital platform so that farming becomes more sustainable for the community?

This isn't just about building an app. This is about digital innovation. How could I harness technology to improve the experience of smallholders at work, offer solutions that would enhance the welfare of the animals, but most of all, how could I build something that would help make better and more informed decisions about the environment? Creating an app isn't about 'going digital.' It is about finding a solution to a problem that has a rippling impact on the better across the globe.  

Was I going to face resistance from my brother in law and his employees? Employees are often too reluctant to abandon natural methods and learn new applications. The UI design would need to be extremely user-friendly and in a way be familiar in order to have the lowest barriers and highest adoption rates. Or do I build in a set of on-screen instructions or guides? It's an app, so there won't be any training. It would have to be intuitive.

I need to make it a reality. I knew I could help my brother in law and his goats.

What technology am I going to use to build the app?  
How easy/difficult was data input going to be? What sort of backend support is needed? What is the final product going to look like? Who else can use it?

I have a lot to think about. Which I have documented, and you can follow my processes in these upcoming blog posts.

I also learned some things about goats!

Did you know: Goats can be taught their name and come when called. My brother in law names lots of his goats!

Goats' pupils are rectangular. This means they have excellent vision that stretches for 320 to 340 degrees. The human eye can only see around 160-210 degrees). They don't even have to move their head!  

Goats burp! Goats can frequently be heard burping in the barn.