Sky's the limit for sheep farming entrepreneur
Mayo woman Mary Murphy has won a €28,000 bursary and mentorship back-up to develop her sheep marking product, reports Claire Fox
Farming entrepreneur Mary Murphy has proven that the sky is truly the limit for her invention of the sheep marking gun as she was recently announced as one of five recipients of Sky's €140,000 Women in Technology scholarship programme.
Mary and her twin sister Sarah (20) created the sheep marking gun four years ago as an on-farm solution to marking their father William's blackface mountain sheep in Crossmolina, Co Mayo.
From being named as the overall winners at the Tullamore Inventions Competition in the student category in 2016 to receiving honours at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition the following year, the €28,000 Sky bursary is the latest step in the sheep marking gun making its mark in agriculture and technology spaces.
While Mary said most of the other projects being interviewed at the Sky Campus in London were heavily science and computing based, she said she was worried that the sheep marking gun would stand out for all the wrong reasons.
"The sheep marking gun is very much a physical project. A lot of the other projects were focussed on gaming or virtual reality, but ours is very much an on-the-ground product.
"I was worried it would work against us on the day but it actually worked for us," says the UCC student who recently completed her first year in a degree in government.
Having been named as one of the coveted 25 scholars, Mary recently appeared on the renowned Sunrise programme on Sky News to talk about her plans for developing the product which she runs with Sarah from a workshop on the farm in Co Mayo.
She says she is looking forward to the mentorship element of the scholarship which will help develop and drive the business forward.
"We're working at the moment on developing a sheep tagging system which would prevent theft as it would alert the farmer if the sheep has been attacked by a predator or taken."
The sheep marking gun itself was developed by the sisters when they were in Transition year and gained popularity in the local area amongst farmers who were looking for less time-consuming ways to mark their sheep.
"We were talking to other farmers at the mart and they were asking where did we get the gun and we said we made it ourselves. The body of it is made in Germany and the cartridge in France and we also do a lot of product work in the workshop.
"It can be hard but there's a lot of stuff you can teach yourself on Google now and Sarah is very good at the engineering side of things so that helps."
Mary explains that the hand-held gun applies the fluid in a single dot position deep in the wool or in a straight line on the animal.
"It has a screw-in refill cartridge in a range of colours. Our marking fluid is better than aerosol sprays as those spray cans often contain chemicals or CFCs which are bad for your health and the environment."
The pair brought the product to the market in February 2016, and sell to Ireland and the UK and have also sold to the US and Norway. Mary is hoping that they can gain access to one market in particular.
"We are hoping to gain access to New Zealand. There's 70 million sheep there, it has the world's largest amount of sheep so it would be a massive boost to us."
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