Jun 17 2013

The USDA Wants to Hack the Chicken Coops of the Future

Open data is the pathway to education and food safety.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is tasked with regulating farms all over the country in order to prevent disease. This means working with large farms whose crops cover thousands of acres, and with individuals who want to raise their own chickens. It’s no easy job, which is why the agency is leveraging mobile technology and open data to achieve their mission.

At this year’s National Day of Civic Hacking, the USDA issued a challenge with the Backyard Poultry Farmer. Along with plenty of data, the USDA gave developers these instructions:

The objective of this challenge is for a poultry management system designed to assist the backyard farmer in enhancing their knowledge in raising poultry; record keeping for expenses, breeding results and profits; and community building to promote sustainable agriculture objectives.

Adam Englander, a software developer and aspiring DIY farmer in Las Vegas, Nev., did just that and has launched the app Backyard Brood. It’s this kind of collaboration that will help the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service keep farmers educated and food safe for consumption. It also opens the door for citizens to monetize open government data:

“This was our first foray into this world [of] working with citizens to help solve government challenges,” says APHIS Chief Information Security Officer Terri Gallagher. She and others are hoping the challenge will strengthen the already growing community of backyard poultry farmers. This new wave of projects could also help create a repository of data that the government and amateur and professional backyard farmers could use to better track bird health and local poultry product production.

The USDA is certainly not lacking data. A quick search on Data.gov reveals more than 250 data sets, which can be downloaded and incorporated into research, tools and software. The agency also has a collection of resources for developers, including guidelines for working APIs and information about the agency’s digital strategy and open source government projects.

Check out Englander’s GitHub page for more information about getting involved with his project.