Making life easier at calving time pays off for farmer-inventor

Another calf safely and easily moved by Thomas Kenny on the farm at Lisdowney, Co Kilkenny.

Converting your farm labour-saving idea into a business: How Thomas Kenny got up and running.

We all have wild and wonderful ideas from time to time.

Ideas about creating a machine that will make life easier for us on the land.

Farming naturally lends itself to such pursuits.

The variation of our workload can open the mind to all sorts of labour saving devices.

Alas, for most of us, these mechanical brain-storming moments stay locked away in the head. They never become a reality on the ground.

Kilkenny man Thomas Kenny is different to most. The son of a Kilkenny dairy farmer, and the creator of the calf barrow, he talked to me recently about ideas, and making them a reality.

“I’ve always been interested in making things,” Thomas told me. “I would always have had lots of mad ideas when I was younger, and I liked working with my hands and solving problems, working things out.

“As much as we could, we would have fixed our own machinery on the farm. I learned a lot growing on the farm in Lisdowney, Kilkenny from my father and grandfather who were always busy thinking up new ways and ideas of solving problems.”

And so it came as no great surprise that Thomas would one day hold aloft a new creation. He told me where his idea for the calf barrow came from. “It came about as a labour saving idea. Lifting calves is just too hard on your back when you’re doing it a lot, not to mention it can be dangerous and dirty. I was trying to make life easier!

“The idea is that you can leave it sitting on the ground, slide a calf into it and then lift it to wheel, thus immobilising the calf.

I included a blanking plate in the design, because I wanted to use it for other purposes such as carrying meal, silage or, if you’re like us at home, for carrying turf and grass cuttings.

“It’s totally Irish made, with the plastic moulded in Waterford by Consort Case. Plastic is used because there are no ridges or sharp parts, so the calf is completely safe.

“The plastic is strong enough for the intended purpose and the steel frame means it’s very robust, and it should last a very long time. It should last a lifetime really.

“Unless, of course, there’s an accident like the poor farmer who drove into his one, and had to get a new tub for the frame!”

After making the calf barrow, how confident was Thomas that it would sell?

“I was confident in the design but not sure how people would react to it. I took it to the Tullamore Show and got a brilliant response, and that was the start of it. I know it’s a very good product and easy to use. I know that farmers are more and more conscious about labour saving and time management these days. I think the Calf Barrow is a really simple idea with a good design, and it works.”

The 32-year-old is also independent when it comes to marketing and distributing his creation, something that should be encouraged in this age of conglomerates.

Was it difficult to set up your own business? I asked.

“I couldn’t say it was hard. But it was time-consuming and I was very careful to plan everything properly and get help and advice from the right people. I really enjoyed the planning process, that’s the kind of thing I like, and I like building them. Preparing the patent, and keeping the paperwork, isn’t quite as much fun. My wife Grace helps a lot with the bookwork.

“I was very lucky, when I was starting up I got great help. Liam Murphy of Unique Inventions Company was a great support, and really encouraged me when I was designing the Calf Barrow. He also made space for me on his stand at the National Ploughing Championships, which I really appreciated.

“John Lambe, who is my accountant, was also invaluable, especially with the patent. My father-in-law, Paddy Cummins has helped me with everything from the first video to getting the Calf Barrow to the UK, and Christine, my sister-in-law, is a farming expert and is always at the other end of the phone!

“My wife Grace keeps me on the straight and narrow, and has always been encouraging me to keep thinking up new ideas. She also looks after the Facebook and Twitter pages, and is always the first person I turn to when I need to think through problems.

“I have been selling it myself for four years. Each year it gets better known through word of mouth mostly, sales are increasing all the time.

“We’re delighted to now say that it is for sale in the UK too! Right now would be our busiest time of the year, naturally enough. I would sell a few all year round, but this is the real season. Knowing this, I have a lot of stock ready to go, because people need to get them straight away to make use of them for the calving period.

“Fortunately, the design is fully patented, so there are not other versions out there. There is no other product like it that is used for quick transport, and in particular for new born calves.

“The only disadvantage to the Calf Barrow is it’s almost indestructible, so I think I better come up with some more ideas, because there are only so many farmers out there!

“So you have more ideas that might become a reality?” I ask.

“Yes I do, nothing physically made yet but, as they say, watch this space!

And so at this time of the year, between delivering calves and delivering Calf Barrows, it’s non-stop for the busy Co Kilkenny inventor and farmer.


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