Mark Kelly, a sheep farmer from Northern Ireland, has designed an innovative sheep shower to treat his flock for pesticides. Emily McDaid reports.
Mark Kelly has worked on his family farm in Beragh, Co Tyrone, for the past 40 years. Like many farmers, he treats his sheep twice a year for parasites. This is traditionally done using a common method, which involves plunging sheep into an open pool filled with water and sheep-dip chemicals. The chemicals are used to keep maggots, ticks and scabs from rooting in the sheep’s wool and skin.
The open pool method is a laborious process that often requires three or four people. It is potentially dangerous for humans to come in contact with the chemicals. Furthermore, the sheep can become stressed from the strain of being plunged down into the chemically treated water.
With pragmatic challenges inherent to this process, Kelly developed an innovative method to treat his sheep, which was not yet available on the market.
“We realised there was a better way – a type of shower that could be fully enclosed in a plastic unit,” said Colm Kelly, a son of the inventor.
With past experience as a builder and electrician, Kelly searched his farm for materials that he could rig up to make a sheep shower. His first model was built out of an old oil tank and pipes. It was so successful with his own flock, the neighbouring farmers approached him to use it.
This was the first step.
The Kelly family – who trade under the name Oran Oak Engineering – then embarked on a three-year R&D process, working closely with the Innotech Centre at South West College. This resulted in a prototype design called DipFast, produced by Harlequin Manufacturing, that would work on the commercial market.
DipFast is a fully enclosed showering unit that uses rotational moulding. The shower can sit on a trailer and be transported anywhere, and the sheep walk in via a ramp. This means that the chemicals can be recycled between sheep, and contaminants don’t get into the groundwater. One sole farmer can oversee the operation, without worrying about coming into contact with the chemicals.
“We are committed to manufacturing this in Northern Ireland,” Colm said. He indicated the price point will be around £5,750, which offers a cost saving over time for farmers, compared to conventional methods.
The prototype has 18 jets, which spray at different angles in order to saturate the sheep fleece. The prototype is undergoing testing at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute to determine saturation levels of the wool and ensure the welfare of the animal. This testing will help to inform any tweaks that need to be made to the initial build.
The roto-moulded tanks are made from thick polyethylene plastic. The unit has a double filtration system, using micron filters and pumps, so all the chemicals are contained and recycled. The back exit door is made from clear Perspex, which is operated on a pulley system and the whole thing can be operated from one side. After the plastic unit is moulded at Harlequin Manufacturing, the internal piping, flooring and filtration system is assembled at Oran Oak Engineering’s farm.
“Presently, there are approximately 18,000 sheep farmers in Northern Ireland with a combined headage of 1.9m sheep. Figures from 2012 showed that in the Republic of Ireland there were 32,000 sheep farms with a total headage of 4.75m sheep. In 2012, there were around 32m sheep in the UK. After we’ve established the business in the UK and Ireland, we aim to explore export markets including Australia and New Zealand,” said Colm.
“We’re in talks with a major manufacturing company about distribution into England, Scotland and Wales, but our plan would be to sell directly to farmers in NI and the Republic of Ireland.
“We’re hoping to launch it by September or October this year,” Colm added.
Oran Oak Engineering is now in the Invent Awards finals in the Agri-Science category. Sinead Dillon, of sponsor Fujitsu, said: “We congratulate Oran Oak Engineering on reaching the final stage of the Invent Awards 2016. The unique sheep dipping unit they have designed aims to address a number of important considerations for the agri-food industry including the environment, animal welfare and cost.
“Fujitsu’s own advancements in the agri-food sector have helped deliver significant efficiencies in livestock husbandry and crop cultivation, so we appreciate the innovative thinking needed to bring products like this to market.”
By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch
A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch