DhakaTribune
Wednesday April 25, 2018 04:16 PM

Feeding chickens and cows with free software

Feeding chickens and cows  with free software
Managing livestock is no longer a manual choreBIGSTOCK

Open-source is not just a buzzword, it can help entire industries grow

Kazi Farms Group is the largest poultry company in Bangladesh. One of the basic problems that has to be solved by any poultry company is formulating nutritious poultry feed at the lowest possible cost.

Until now, the global feed milling industry was dependent on expensive feed formulation software sold by multi-national vendors.

However, thanks to creative use and development of free/open-source software, Kazi Farms Group has been able to make our feed operation independent of foreign software.

This approach to software can save countries like Bangladesh millions of dollars in software import costs if replicated across other industries and sectors.

The feeding of livestock was simple back in the days when farm animals were local, low-yielding varieties — local cows were fed grass, and local chickens foraged for insects. However, modern high-yield varieties of dairy cattle and broiler/layer chicken are bred to be far more productive.

A basic rule is that a higher-yielding variety of animal will require higher-quality feed to perform.

After all, everything an animal produces in terms of meat, eggs, or milk has to come from nutrients in animal feed.

This means that modern farms need modern high-nutrient animal feed.

Formulation of high-nutrient animal feed is actually a complex problem, because it has to be done at minimal cost to ensure farmer profit.

Thus, several multi-national software companies have developed software to help solve the problem of least-cost feed formulation.

An expensive method

However, feed formulation software is expensive. Typically, the licence cost is thousands of dollars per user per year for each feed mill.

At Kazi Farms, we have paid close to $100,000 over the years in license fees for imported feed formulation software.

Fortunately, the problem of formulating least-cost feed, while in itself complex, can be broken down into a number of simpler steps.

Each of these steps can be solved without much difficulty.

First, one needs a list of different feed raw materials like corn, wheat, soybean meal, rice bran, soybean oil, etc, with their nutritional information and prices; as well as a list of different kinds of animal feed required to be produced, and the detailed nutritional specifications in terms of protein, fats, and minerals required for each feed.

Fortunately, this data is publicly available, thanks to years of scientific research in the field of livestock nutrition.

The free/open-source software movement has revolutionised the worldwide software industry by treating software as a field of scientific research where work, once completed, can be built upon and extended

Second, the above information has to be stored in a free, portable database which can be easily updated with current prices. Fortunately, there are a variety of these available, such as the H2 free/open-source database which can be installed on any computer.

Third, there has to be a mathematical library which can use the data in the database to calculate the least-cost formulation of each feed type at current prices. Of course, this is also available as free/open-source software, in the form of the GNU Linear Optimisation Kit.

Finally, there has to be an easy-to-use interface so that feed mill nutritionists can make use of the above. Kazi Farms runs a software company, Sysnova, which was able to develop this at minimal cost with requiring only a few months of work from a single local Java programmer using the free/open-source OpenJDK Java interpreter.

The result of all the above work is the SysnovaFeed software.

A software solution

SysnovaFeed has been developed using free/open-source components like the H2 database, GNU Linear Optimisation Kit, and OpenJDK Java interpreter.

All these software components are licenced under the GNU General Public License, which requires that all derivative works also have to be similarly free/open-source.

In compliance with GPL, Kazi Farms and Sysnova are making the SysnovaFeed software freely downloadable on the web to anyone in the world who needs feed formulation software.

The development of a complex software solution like SysnovaFeed would not have been possible in a short time without the huge amount of work that has previously been put into  livestock nutritional research and development of the free/open-source software.

Building upon an existing body of work and knowledge is common in science, as Isaac Newton famously said: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

The free/open-source software movement has revolutionised the worldwide software industry by treating software as a field of scientific research where work, once completed, can be built upon and extended — no one needs to re-invent the wheel.

In fact, each industry has its own complex problems which are typically solved by industry-specific proprietary software, which is never cheap.

The point of the above experience is to help people realise that complex problems can typically be broken down into simpler forms, and when analysed those simplified problems can usually be solved with free/open-source software.

Free/open-source software thus provides countries like Bangladesh a real way to solve our own IT-related problems without becoming dependent on foreign software vendors. Hopefully many more local organisations will start innovating with free/open-source software in the future.

Zeeshan Hasan is a director of Kazi Media, the company behind Deepto TV. He is also the managing director of Sysnova.

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