A leap forward in livestock handling

Cork farmer Maeve O'Keeffe is breaking new ground with her labour-saving cattle crush

Maeve O'Keefe from Ballynoe, Co. Cork with her innovative cattle crush which reduces the workload for handling livestock
Maeve O'Keefe from Ballynoe, Co. Cork with her innovative cattle crush which reduces the workload for handling livestock
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

It was a three-month work placement trip to a 1,300 cow dairy farm in New Zealand that inspired Maeve O'Keeffe to create her innovation to save on back-breaking farm labour.

Out of the hours spent paring the hooves of lame cows the Inspect 4 turn-over crate was born.

Maeve (25), who is a from a dairy farm in east Cork, explains that catching a problem early such as a stone lodged in the foot can save farmers money from lost milk productivity.

"I didn't like the equipment in New Zealand ­- I'd have to shove the cow in bend down and pick up the leg and when you're working behind it is easy to get a kick," she said.

"I thought it would be great if we could make something that would involve less physical work for me. If we could develop something for our own farm then we'd be able to treat them ourselves.

"We developed a basic turnover crush - it is all hydraulically operated and it has a back end that pushes in the cow. Then you have the cow in the enclosure, you fully secure the cow and turn her on her side and restrain all four feet.

"It is a huge advantage as you can see any problems that might be emerging on another foot."

Maeve never believed the cows would be as quiet and comfortable in the crate as they are. "I got a patent and it took us about two and a half years before we got it certified," she says adding they went to agricultural shows and were amazed at the number of people coming up showing scars earned from hoof paring.

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"We've made sales to farmers and hoof trimmers and Enterprise Ireland have come on board as an equity partner through the competitive start fund and the New Frontier programme has also helped me greatly. It was brilliant for start-ups," she says, with a new model with a faster hydraulic system due to be launched at the Ploughing this week.

Mobile Unit

"With the current one you can do 18 cows an hour and we're hoping to speed it up with this one."

The price for the fixed unit for farmers, including delivering and fitting is around €12,000 plus VAT, while the mobile unit targeted at hoof trimmers costs from €24,000 plus VAT.

Farmers are also using the crate for inserting dry cow tubes and teat sealers.

The company is currently looking for a distributor in the UK and are also considering other regions such as New Zealand.

"One of the biggest things we have to do is educate farmers on the cost of lameness - until I got into this myself I never knew how much a lame cow costs," she says adding figures place it at a minimum of €290 based as she could be lame for eight weeks and losing milk productivity.

"A lot of farmers will wait until they have two or three lame together before going for the hoof trimmer as there is a call out fee. It is the same as mastitis maybe 50 years ago.

"Nothing is being done on lameness. I'm hoping to cover it under the 2015 Nuffield Scholarships - I just want to create more awareness on the whole topic of lameness of dairy cows," she says.

The Enterprise Ireland Innovations Arena can be found at Row 23, Stand 395

Playing safe on the farm

Fifth year secondary school student Patrick Duffy was inspired by one of his father's agricultural discussion groups to create a farm safety board game for children.The 17-year-old is hoping to encourage young children to become more aware of the dangers that lie around farms and farmyards.

"My father Martin Duffy is an agricultural consultant and used to run discussion groups. He asked me to draw up a Snakes and Ladders farm safety board game for a discussion group. Then a few weeks later in school we were entering the Student Enterprise Awards," he says of the Transition Year project.

The young student, who has an artistic streak, then created the Think Safely Farm Safely board game. "What draws a child's attention in is that there are colourful images on them - it is like Snakes and Ladders. If you roll the dice and you land on something negative like an open slurry tank then you drop back a few spaces," he says, adding other negative images include children playing in a stack of bales or a farmer wearing loose clothing.

However, he said there are also plenty of positive images including farm safety signs that let the player move forwards a few places. "I'll be selling them at the Ploughing this year - I've printed 500 games in total and they'll cost around €5. I'm hoping that schools and parents might buy them," he says.

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