An enterprising graduate has followed her family’s entrepreneurial footsteps after designing a specialist machine to help farmers tend to their herd.
Maeve O’Keeffe’s parents Eddie and Linda set up Ballynoe Agri Services 15 years ago, and starting out with a small light engineering business before diversifying into biomass energy with a wood chip depot.
Maeve recently graduated from WIT with a Degree in Agricultural Science. As part of her studies, she spent 18 months on work experience in New Zealand. There she noticed that farmers and farm managers pared the hoofs of their own herds. However, on researching this at home, she found that it was almost never done in Ireland by the farmers themselves, one of the main reasons being that it is a very physical job and can be dangerous. All farmers also will agree that a cow should be treated immediately but this job is sometimes put off until there are a few cows lame together.
Maeve set about designing “Inspect 4”, a hydraulic hoof paring crate, which takes the physicality and danger out of this task. An animal is immobilised safely and securely in the Hoof Paring Crate, and is then tilted carefully using the hydraulic system, so that all four hooves are at waist height for the farmer who can then inspect all four and treat them immediately.
The cost savings can be significant, particularly for farmers with herds of over 80 cows. An animal can be treated immediately it is noticed to be lame, if necessary straight after milking with the Inspect 4 crate situated near the milking parlour, and can then rejoin the herd. This improves animal welfare and ensures that any loss of milk production yield is minimised or even eliminated. In addition, lameness can contribute to fertility problems and further loss of income to the farmer, every missed heat costs the farmer €240 in milk sales alone.. The Inspect 4 crate can also be used for many other duties such as dehorning, castrating, dosing and vaccinating.
Maeve approached her local LEADER group, Avondhu Blackwater Partnership (www.avondhublackwater.com) to discuss her invention. She and her father had already built a prototype and confirmed that the Inspect 4 Hoof Paring Crate worked by using the device on their own farm. However, to bring Inspect 4 into production, they needed a specialist machine to make the product marketable and efficiently, to their exacting standards.
Having presented their Business Plan and had their application for a LEADER Grant considered by Avondhu Blackwater Partnership, it was decided that the product was both innovative and impressive, that it could exploit a niche in the market and critically, that a sufficient target market existed into which it could be sold. As a result, grant aid was approved.
Maeve won the prestigious Innovation award for her Inspect 4 crate at the recent Tullamore Show, and just missed out on the first prize in the NPA/Toplink Innovation Award at the National Ploughing Championships.
Inspect 4 is now in production, testament to the innovation, hard work and dedication of Maeve O’Keeffe and her family. Avondhu Blackwater Partnership are delighted to have been in a position to provide support for this product at a critical stage in its development, and to support Ballynoe Agri Services as they continue to survive and thrive like many small businesses in the SME and wider rural economy. A video demonstration of the Inspect 4 Hoof Paring Crate can be viewed on www.ballynoeagriservices.com and Ballynoe Agri Services can be contacted on 058 59366 or 087 953 9581.
* Avondhu Blackwater Partnership is the state funded LEADER company for North County Cork and is responsible for the Rural Development Programme (RDP), Local Community Development Programme (LCDP), the Rural Transport Programme, Community Services Programme (Blackwater Community Connect), the Rural Social Scheme and the TÚS initiative