Saturday 16 December 2017

Dairymaster's new 'moo monitor' will transform country life

In this all-new series, Sean Gallagher salutes the unsung heroes of Irish business. Here, he visits Dairymaster, a global leader in hi-tech milking, based in Co Kerry

'It's all about how to do things better and quicker, how to make it easier, more sustainable -- while still driving up profits...'

Every morning around the world, millions of people start their day by pouring milk over their breakfast cereal. Many businesses have evolved from efforts to speed up the process of getting that milk from the cow in the field to the shelves of the local shop.

To launch this series of good news articles about successful Irish businesses, I wanted to find not just a good business, but a good story and one with which everyone could identify. I found the business in the most unlikely of locations and in the most unlikely of sectors.

Global leaders in their field and tucked away in the quiet countryside outside Causeway, in Co Kerry, Dairymaster employs more than 250 people, 25 of whom are located in its overseas operations in the UK and the US. It produces a range of hi-tech milking machines, milking parlours and farm equipment that are used by dairy farmers in more than 40 countries around the world including the US, Russia and Japan.

It has been almost 30 years since I left agriculture college myself and having spent a time after that working as an apprentice farm manager of a dairy herd, I was excited to see how the industry had developed since then.

Arriving at its global headquarters in Kerry, I was greeted by Ned Harty, who set up the business, and his son Edmond, who now runs it.

I was immediately struck by the modesty of these unassuming, but highly successful, businessmen as we stood dwarfed by the magnitude of the facility they had created; an 11-acre site, half of which is now covered by buildings.

Dairymaster doesn't just make ordinary milking machines -- some machines can even talk, shouting out instructions to the farmer while automatic cleaners can be programmed to clean the farm yard while the farmer sits down to his breakfast.

"Scientific research shows that our milking machines produce five per cent more milk and can milk a cow one minute faster than our competitors," says Edmond.

Dairymaster's latest fertility 'Moo Monitor' is a real example of innovation. Fitted comfortably around the neck of the cow, this device is so technically advanced that it can tell when the cow is 'in heat', a time when it is most opportune for the cow to receive a visit from a friendly bull or the modern AI equivalent.

This information is relayed to the farmer via text message. In addition, the Voice Assist System plays over the parlour sound system during the next milking to alert the farmer as to which cows in the parlour at that moment are in heat.

"In farming, time is money and yield is everything," says Edmond. "Most cows come in heat between 8pm and 6am and this is typically a time when the farmer is asleep or when the herd is not being monitored.

"If you miss this window of opportunity, you delay the cow getting into calf. Every time that happens, it costs the farmer, on average, €230."

Other products include milk tanks and cooling systems that will text the farmer if there is a sudden drop in temperature or to remind him that the tank needs to be washed before the next milking. Dairymaster's computerised Feeding Systems, complete with mobile app, communicates via 'the Cloud' with a tag in the cow's ear, allowing each cow to receive only the exact amount of feed, based on her stage of pregnancy.

Some 70 per cent of the company's products are exported using a global network of distributors that cater for small farmers right up to those who milk 6,000 cows daily on a single farm in Texas.

The company's impressive training facilities resemble a mini-European parliament, complete with interpreters' booths, where international distributors and farmers from all over the world come weekly to receive instruction and product demonstrations.

Ned Harty was the younger son of a local farmer. Because of the tradition at the time of passing on the family farm to the eldest son, he had little choice but to earn a living elsewhere.

Farming was all he knew and so in 1968 he went into business, firstly selling, and later making, milking machines. "Things were hard at the beginning," remembers Ned. "There were more supper times than there were suppers." But he persevered.

As we made our way around the site, it was impressive to witness how the company had developed during those intervening years.

Building after building was heaving with different types of machines and computer equipment.

Armies of staff, mostly in smart blue uniforms, were immersed in all sorts of activities including 3D design, traditional manufacturing, software development and intricate electronic engineering. "A full 95 per cent of all components are produced in-house -- and that allows us ensure everything works seamlessly on the farm." says Edmond. He is quick too in acknowledging the commitment of the staff in the company's success.

Having completed a degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Limerick, Edmond joined the business full time in 1998. He went on to finish his PhD by 2001 while working in the business and is now CEO.

His love for developing software also turned out to be a perfect combination, allowing him to join the dots between traditional farming, mechanical systems, manufacturing processes and technology.

He introduced a whole new level of innovation to a company already committed to a process of continuous and never-ending improvement.

"I am fascinated," says Edmond, "about how to do things better and faster and how to make it easier and more sustainable for farmers to carry out their work -- while at the same time driving up profits."

It is this fascination that drives him and one which is deeply embedded in the entire company's culture and ethos.

Like so many other businesses, Dairymaster was born out of Ned Harty's need to earn a living.

Now it is a truly global company -- and under the watchful eye of Edmond Harty, it is helping to change and modernise a global industry.

Sunday Indo Business

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