Innovation awards: Moocall is changing farmers’ lives

Revolutionary device on cow’s tail alerts farmer to the onset of labour in their animal

Moocall’s chief executive Emmet Savage with  John Larkin, head of technology and marketing. ‘In our first 18 months in business we sold 13,000 units in 30 countries,’ says Savage. Photograph: Conor McCabe

Moocall’s chief executive Emmet Savage with John Larkin, head of technology and marketing. ‘In our first 18 months in business we sold 13,000 units in 30 countries,’ says Savage. Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

When Dr Michael Smurfit describes a company as the best business he has encountered in 25 years it’s time to sit up and take notice. When that business is well outside that businessman’s normal comfort zone you really know it has to be worth watching. That company is Moocall.

As the name suggests, the company is involved in the agriculture sector – the cattle business to be precise. Moocall has developed a device which has the potential to transform for the better the lives of cattle farmers, in both the beef and dairy sectors, by alerting them to within an accuracy of just one hour to the time their cow will give birth.

Calving is the most joyful and exhilarating yet fearful time of the year for many farmers. The biggest fear for the farmer are difficulties at calving when cows and calves can be lost. If a farmer is not present at calving, a cow can be badly injured by trying to calve a large calf, the calf being in a breach presentation or the uterus being twisted.

Farmers need to be present or at least in a position to monitor the calving so that they can assist with a difficult birth or call in a vet when necessary.

Absence can result in the loss of both the cow and the calf. This is almost exactly what happened to Moocall co-founder Niall Austin in 2010. He lost a heifer and her calf due to a difficult calving and this led him to come up with the idea to develop a device to predict the onset of labour in a cow.

He had a theory that measuring the tail movements of the cow could give an accurate prediction and brought his idea to the other Moocall founders Michael Stanley and Emmet Savage.

As they looked into the issue, it became apparent that far too many cows and calves were being lost during the calving process. Bovine mortality rates today are comparable to human infant mortality rates centuries ago. It looked like this high rate could be drastically lowered by utilising technology to monitor labour and triggering an alert prior to calving occurring.

Mortality wasn’t the only issue to be dealt with.

Pinched nerves can render a cow paralysed which will result in her being unable to wean her calf and eventually being culled. Calf health can also be affected if a farmer is not present at a calving. A calf may miss getting the vital colostrum within the first 12 hours after the birth and this is essential to kick start the calf’s digestive system as well as its immune system.

With so much to lose it is little wonder farmers have to constantly monitor their cows. The main method in use up until now has been CCTV cameras but this has its limitations and drawbacks.

It means the farmer has to be constantly awake and watching through the night if necessary and it can be both costly and unwieldy for large herds.

Statistically, some 10 per cent of cows and 20 per cent of heifers have difficulty calving and there is an average seven per cent mortality rate associated with calving. This means that finding a way to monitor the cow without eating into daily farm management resources is essential.

This is where the Moocall comes in.

Niall Austin and the team have developed a sensor device which weighs only a little over 200 grams, sits non-invasively on the cow’s tail, measures its movement using accelerometer technology, and uses a sophisticated algorithm to predict when calving will take place. An integrated Vodafone SIM card is used to transmit an alert to two mobile phones giving the farmer ample time to attend to the cow.

Part of the beauty of the system is that the farmer doesn’t actually have to be present at all. As Niall Austin points out, one customer was away in Portugal on holiday when the alert came through. He was able to call a neighbour an arrange for him to go and attend the calving.

The product was launched at the 2014 Ploughing Championships and has proved exceptionally popular with farmers since.

“Things have been going exceptionally well”, says Moocall chief executive Emmet Savage.

“In our first 18 months in business we sold 13,000 units in 30 countries around the world. We are in negotiations with distributors in Europe, the US and Asia and demand is so strong that we recently had to move to a new 6,500 square foot premises in Blackrock, Co Dublin.”

He predicts employment at the company will grow to 50 next year and turnover to rise to approximately €8 million by the end of 2017.

“By the end of 2018 I would hope that turnover will be in the region of €50 million”, he adds.

“We are setting up distribution channels around the world for Moocall at the moment and we have four new products in development,” Savage continues.

“These are all based on wearable technology with one of them being a fitbit type device for a cow. Another product in development is a completely new way of telling if a cow is in heat. The whole internet of thing-space for animals is such an underdeveloped area there are lots of opportunities in it. We are confident that we can be world leaders in the space.”

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