Sunday 25 September 2016

Irish company making big moves in a tail of animal wearable tech

Irish company Moocall's wearable technology has become the eyes and ears for farmers around the world during busy calving seasons

Published 07/08/2016 | 02:30

Moocall chief executive Emmet Savage says that their hi-tech product has a 95pc success rate in terms of predicting calving
Moocall chief executive Emmet Savage says that their hi-tech product has a 95pc success rate in terms of predicting calving

A little over five years ago, businessman Emmet Savage, now the CEO of Moocall, was approached by farmer Niall Austin with an innovative idea.

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Since childhood, Niall had made an observation concerning the distinct tail movements of a cow when it is about to calve and, following the loss of a calf on his own farm, Niall came up with an innovative idea to help farmers pinpoint the timing of labour.

"The loss of a cow or calf is a large financial loss to a farmer, so Niall did some Google research and saw that there was no viable product on the market to help ensure that this did not happen again," Emmet explains.

"So at that point, Niall approached me and I knew a little bit about farming because as a child I had milked some cows and I knew that finding out when a cow was going to calve was a big problem for farmers. They were up in the middle of the night, looking to see what cows were in calf, so that they could intervene, if necessary.

"I knew Niall was on to something when he said that there is definitely something in the way a cow's tail can be interpreted to identify when it is due to calve," Emmet says.

"So we embarked on a 'proof of concept' design at that point and in order to do that, Michael Stanley - who is also the CEO of Cairn Homes and a very good friend of mine - and myself put some initial seed capital into the business and we engaged with various partners to work out if tail movements could in fact be used to tell when a cow was going to calve."

In a relatively short space of time, this initial seed capital was proved to be money well spent.

"In our first few months, we very quickly found that yes, what Niall had observed on the farm since he was a kid was very true - the tail movements of a cow on the onset of labour are very specific," Emmet adds.

The resulting Moocall calving sensor device is similar to that of a mobile phone and is strapped to a cow's tail, where the product will pick up and count the intensity levels of each contraction. When these levels increase to a specific point, a farmer will receive a text message to say that the cow is about to calve.

"The problem we are solving is ultimately a very large one, in that 3pc of calving results in a dead calf. About 17pc or 18pc of all heifers have difficulty when calving and 7pc or 8pc of experienced cows still have difficulty. So it is essential that the farmer is there to make a judgement call on whether the cow needs assistance or not," Emmet explains.

"If the cow gets into difficulty and the calf is lost, that has a huge financial impact on the farmer and the farmer is also sleep-deprived at the end of a calving season, where he is up three or four times a night, every night, checking on cows. So Moocall has become the farmer's eyes and ears in the calving shed and in the field."

After four years in development, Moocall was launched at the National Ploughing Championships in 2014 and achieved over 600 pre-order sales for the first units, which went on sale in January 2015.

"We spent a lot of time developing the algorithm, designing the product, and we used a lot of different companies in getting Moocall to market," Emmet explains. "We used a software company in Belgrade and a design company in Dublin, we manufacture in Enniskillen and all of these people were instrumental in getting this product to market."

Also instrumental throughout the process was the support and further investment from Michael Stanley and Dr Michael Smurfit and the Smurfit family.

"They were very excited about what we were doing and the opportunity that was there.

"They have backed the business very substantially since the proof-of-concept stage and their financial support has been a huge help to us and enabled us to get to a stage where we were ready to launch the product," Emmet says.

The success of the Moocall calving sensor since it was launched commercially in January 2015 speaks for itself, with over 13,000 sensors sold and now in use across 30 countries around the world.

At LAMMA, the UK's largest agricultural and machinery show last year, Moocall won the best new technological product award and the product has also received both the prestigious Red Dot design award and the Grand Prix prize at the Irish Design Awards, among other accolades.

"The accuracy levels with the Moocall calving sensor are in the region of 95pc. So 95pc of all calving we will predict," Emmet explains. "The unit works anywhere in the world with a GSM signal and has a fully roaming SIM card, which means it can work in very low signal areas.

"It is very easily attached to the cow's tail and it has an LED indicator to give the status of the product. The device has a rechargeable battery, which lasts 30 days and we will text the farmer when the battery is at 15pc, so they know when to recharge it," Emmet adds.

Similar to the operation of a mobile phone, the Moocall calving sensor is what is often known as a 'plug and play' product; it is delivered to the farmer's door and after he has completed the short online registration form, the device will be set up and ready to use that same day.

Customers can use their Moocall sensors on an unlimited basis for an entire year and following the first 12 months a charge of €122 plus VAT is applied for the service annually.

"The service for 12 months is included in the product's purchase price of €269 plus VAT and after year one, we ask the farmer to pay a licence fee for a following 12 months' unlimited usage," Emmet explains.

"And 90pc of all customers who bought this product 12 months ago have renewed their contract for the next 12 months, so that is a very serious indicator of how good the product is. There is a significant saving to the farmer for having one or two of these units on his farm and you can just move it from cow to cow. There is no limit on the amount of times the device can be used."

Moocall has exclusive distribution agreements in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Italy and according to Emmet, the company is also engaged in advanced negotiations with some of the biggest players in the US, Australian and New Zealand agricultural markets.

"We currently have 16 employees full-time, with about four part-time, and I would envisage as a company having in the region of 50 employees in 12 months' time," Emmet predicts.

"There is a large element of customer service to back this product up and we also have a lot of logistics to work on and design, then we have international sales managers on the road as well.

"We have had huge interest from across the world. Our customer base has grown 22pc per month over the last seven months. Our turnover by the end of 2017 will be about €8m and by the end of 2018 I would be hoping that our turnover would be in the region of €50m."

However, the Moocall calving sensor is just the first of many innovative devices the company plans to introduce into the market.

"We have a suite of four other products coming online now also that are all at late stages in design and development, so we are by no means going to be a one-product company," Emmet says.

"We have a product that is going to detect a cow's heat cycle and we have an equine version of Moocall coming online also.

"Then we have a device that is going to warn the farmer of when his sheep are under attack from predators.

"So we are very much involved in developing new products in what we call the animal wearable space; it is our goal to become the Fitbit for animals," Emmet adds.

"We are an ambitious young company that is well backed and the backers that we have are very passionate about what we are doing.

"The animal wearable space is something that is very underutilised and examined in the sense that we do not have any rivals in the market right now, providing non-invasive tail-mounted sensors for predicting calving, and we feel the route that we are going with the other products is very unique as well, so we see the future being very bright."

For more information, see https://moocall.com/

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