Maeve O’Keeffe’s parents, Eddie and Linda, set up Ballynoe Agri Services, in East Cork, 15 years ago.
Starting with a small, light-engineering business, they diversified into biomass energy with a wood-chip depot.
Maeve recently graduated from WIT with a degree in agricultural science.
As part of her studies, she spent 18 months on work experience in New Zealand.
There, she noticed that farmers and managers pared the hoofs of their own herds. She learned that in Ireland it was rarely done by the farmers, because it is a very physically demanding job and can be dangerous.
Farmers know lame cows should be treated immediately, but the job is put off until there are a few cows lame together.
Maeve designed Inspect 4, a hydraulic hoof-paring crate, which takes the physicality and danger out of this task. An animal is immobilised safely, and securely, in the hoof-paring crate, and is then tilted carefully, using the hydraulic system, so that all four hooves are at waist height for the farmer, who can then inspect all four and treat them immediately.
The cost savings can be significant, particularly for farmers with bigger herds. An animal can be treated as soon as its lameness is noticed, if necessary straight after milking (with the Inspect 4 crate situated near the milking parlour), and can then rejoin the herd.
This improves animal welfare and ensures that any loss of milk-production yield is minimised, or even eliminated.
Fertility problems, and further loss of income, linked to lameness, can be prevented; every missed heat costs the farmer €240 in milk sales.
The Inspect 4 crate can also be used for many other duties, such as dehorning, castrating, dosing and vaccinating.
Maeve approached her local LEADER group, Avondhu Blackwater Partnership (www.avondhublackwater.com), to discuss her invention.
She and her father had already built a prototype, and used the Inspect 4 hoof-paring crate on their own farm.
They presented their business plan and had their application for a LEADER grant considered by Avondhu Blackwater Partnership. It was decided that the product was both innovative and impressive, that it could exploit a niche in the market, and, critically, that a sufficient target market existed into which it could be sold. As a result, grant aid was approved.
Maeve won the prestigious innovation award at the Tullamore Show, and just missed out on the first prize in the NPA/Toplink Innovation Award, at the National Ploughing Championships.
Inspect 4 is now in production, thanks to the innovation, hard work and dedication of Maeve O’Keeffe and her family.
A video demonstration of the Inspect 4 hoof-paring crate can be viewed on the www.ballynoeagriservices.com website.
Avondhu Blackwater Partnership is the state-funded LEADER company for North County Cork and is responsible, locally, for the Rural Development Programme, Local Community Development Programme, the Rural Transport Programme, Community Services Programme (Blackwater Community Connect), the Rural Social Scheme, and the TÚS initiative.