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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnanehttps://www.thatsfarming.com/
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Self-installation plug-and-play virtual poultry assistant for 24/7 remote monitoring

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Claire Lewis, CEO/founder of Pondus, the virtual poultry assistant. We discuss the in-shed camera system for remote, touchless, 24/7 measurement and monitoring of poultry to reduce labour requirements and biosecurity risks associated with shed entry.

“I am from a family farm based in Cheshire, North West England. The farm has been in the family for three generations, with dairy being the dominant enterprise for many decades. Today, the farm is split between beef, sheep and some crops.

Being the youngest in the family and the family farm being relatively small by today’s standards, I had to fledge my own career.

I am still in the agri and agri-food sector, so still very much in touch with the farm base.

I studied at Harper Adams University College, gaining a first hons degree in agri-food marketing. From here, I joined the AB Agri graduate training programme.

I stayed with AB Agri for 6 years, 4.5 years of which were focused on the delivery of, at the time, the world’s largest agriculture carbon footprint initiative collecting and analysing data from some 2,500 farms across the UK and New Zealand.

This was the first real insight into how data is collected on farms, how this varies between the farm sector and well or not tech enables some systems are.

I then went into food retail, leading and creating the Agriculture Data Strategy for Sainsbury’s Supermarkets.

This experience completed what I needed to know about how lack of data and the lack of ability to collect data can positively and negatively impact the productivity, profitability and sustainability of supply chains.

It was from here I began my quest to develop an impactful agtech for the world’s largest meat protein category – chicken.

Pondus

I would say, though, that my experiences beyond the family farm have been critical in shaping what we do today at Pondus.

I am still in contact with livestock and produce and rear a range of poultry, and we produce our own chickens at Pondus.

Pondus was founded by myself and co-founder Eric Platon in 2020. We started the R&D for the company four years ago, and the idea came from my former career in the agri-food sector.

Chicken is the world’s largest meat protein category but is littered with problems that continue to mount.

The pressure on the industry is getting greater as birds grow quicker.

So a small issue can soon become a big problem. The level of technology development in the poultry industry over recent years has been lacklustre compared to other agriculture sectors, which has left the industry exposed.

The biggest challenges are labour, biosecurity and volatility. Our mission was to create a serious contender in terms of a new technology using state-of-the-art artificial intelligence and machine learning engines to overcome the labour and biosecurity challenges, yet to ensure the state-of-the-art is affordable and accessible.

Pondus is at the service of the poultry industry and that of agriculture. Whilst poultry is our main focus, everything built and developed by Pondus is portable to other sectors.

Pondus is born from humble beginnings – real-life challenges felt first-hand.

Myself and Eric took on the quest and, for three years, devoted ourselves to experimenting with cameras, installations, growing our own poultry, keeping close to farmers and striving to get those early hard yards done.

Just one year ago, we started to grow the team, and today we are a team of eight.

Virtual Poultry Assistant

Our product is the Virtual Poultry Assistant. The core technology is based on artificial intelligence and machine learning for the image processing of poultry, enabling 24/7 touchless monitoring and measurement of birds.

The Pondus camera system is installed in sheds. These cameras take images which are then sent to the secure cloud server.

It is here the images are processed using the algorithms developed by Pondus and deliver useful information back to farmers and integrators via the Pondus app.

The app provides weight and weight distribution data and charts and huddling alerts with more features to come.

The hardware is formed from off-the-shelf component parts but is brought together to form the Pondus system. The hardware is globally adaptable and accessible.

Benefits of the virtual poultry assistant

Its benefits are as follows:

  • Labour saving – eliminate the need for hand weighing and calibrating the weigh scales whilst having those extra eyes in the shed when you cannot be there. Once the system is installed, there is very little maintenance. It is switched on and then left. No need to take anything down for washdown. Just leave it all as it is;
  • Targeted use of labour – through the information provided, labour can be targeted where it is needed most, ensuring the finite labour resources are used to the best effect;
  • Reduce biosecurity risk – with the extra eyes in the shed and data available 24/7 anywhere, anytime, there is the ability to reduce shed entry to when it is only required and reduce the need to take in additional equipment, for example, weigh scales;
  • Improve efficiency and performance – the volume of data collected by the Pondus dwarfs that possible by any other technology available. The data can be as granular as required and combined with the volume of data, there is the ability to start to identify trends across a shed and between sheds to spot and address challenges earlier on and thus improve performance;
  • Better lifestyle. Pondus allows farmers to monitor their birds whilst not being onsite. Information can be received anywhere, anytime, and the alerts provide relief from having to be online 24/7.

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Plug-and-play system

Self-installation plug-and-play system – the installation is very easy and straightforward. The Pondus system is formed from off-the-shelf component parts, bringing familiarity to many.

The system can be installed by farmers themselves and electricians, and Pondus also conducts installations on request.

The installation is easy but needs to be done in a finite window between the washdown and the bedding going down. A scissor lift is also often required to support the installation of the units.

The Pondus system is primarily targeted at poultry producers. It is Pondus’s mission to make a positive impact on poultry production by being farmer-led.

The solution needs to work for them. The data is, however, useful to integrators and retailers.

Currently, the technology is most suited to standard broiler production and broiler breeders. The system can be installed into any shed type.

The system brings benefits to many, but those who are struggling with labour would potentially see greatest benefit.

In any system, even though CCTV cameras may be in operation, there is a constant need to be online. The Pondus system alleviates this for any farmer.

More insight not otherwise available today, delivered conveniently and timely to you wherever you are, that will enable you to make better decisions about the management of your crop – that is what you should invest in.

And it is also cost-effective – just £0.66 per 200 birds for a 30,000-bird shed.

Ireland has a strong chicken production base with some excellent production standards, but it is often understated.

This technology will enable Ireland to grow its production whilst maintaining standards, attracting the next generations and potentially taking a leading edge.

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Prices

It is a very cost-effective system. There is a set-up fee of around £2,200 per shed, which includes all the hardware – communications box and typically four cameras.

Pondus also offers a multi-shed system for sites with more than one shed, which is more cost-effective for those with more than one shed.

There is then a monthly subscription of £0.66p per 200 birds. This maintains the app and enables the use of the latest upgrades to all intelligent services (weighing, huddling, surveillance, data export) and is for an unlimited number of users for the app – no additional fees for each user.

Our plan for the coming month is to make the shift from development to commercialisation of the product and services across Ireland and the UK.

Made by farmers for farmers, it is a high-tech solution but one which is tailored to the real needs of the industry.

Our team is highly complimentary – a unique mix of pure agri-food, Artificial Intelligence and Hardware Engineering. This means within the core team, we have all bases covered and can access expertise, knowledge and iterations of software quickly.

This is affordable high tech for the industry and technology, which is supported by an empathetic, humble team. We are here to help and want to ensure the technology delivers for farmers.

Given the nature of the core team and the level of experience within each area, Pondus delivers unprecedented cost performance making for competitive prices to customers.

Alongside this, being close to industry and having active backgrounds within the sector, Pondus is able to grow its own birds and, in doing so, have direct control over training data, its volume and quality.

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Future 

To develop further intelligent features is one of our future plans. Currently, the technology offers weight estimation, weight distribution, huddling and surveillance.

There are more behaviour and shed surveillance features in the pipeline, including but not exclusive to mortality, panting, and feeder activity.

The team has grown from 3 to 8 over the last 4 months. This stands Pondus in good stead to continue to develop new services, iterate on the current and continue to innovate on the hardware to ensure it delivers for the software but is keeping up to speed with IP ratings and is as durable as possible.

To support all of this, we are expanding our workshop operations in the UK and potentially Australia also.

The product and services are globally accessible, so there will be global expansion over the next nine months.

And you can come and see us at Eurotier in November. We will be exhibiting in the AgriFuture Lab with our units on display and three team members to discuss your needs with.

Being close to a farm is critical for us and something we value highly. And we also very much understand the need for our products to be highly performing to have the impact required and desired.

As such, we have focused in on developing strong relationships with farmers. Currently,  we have six commercial farms which act as our R&D sites.

This means there is an array of feedback and also a variety of test environments for hardware and software, making the technology as robust as possible.

Units are currently deployed across the UK, Ireland and Australia, testing the versatility and validity of the solution.”

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