Targeted treatment cuts drug resistance in livestock

Jack and Nick Cotter grew up on their family’s sheep farm in Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick. Entrepreneurial by nature, the brothers were just 11 and 13 years old when they started their first business, Cotter Bros Firewood, in 2011.

That business is still thriving and employs eight people. Their second business, Cotter Organic Lamb, was set up in 2019 shortly followed by business number three, Cotter Agritech, which is focused on reducing drug use in agriculture while boosting productivity and profitability.

“Our patented hardware and software solutions enable livestock farmers transition from the wasteful practice of blanket treating animals with antiparasitic drugs to very precise applications,” Nick Cotter says.

“Science tells us that approximately 80 per cent of parasites live in around 20 per cent of the animals so over treating is wasteful and of no benefit. Our targeted selective treatment reduces antiparasitic drug use by up to 50 per cent, prevents parasite resistance and reduces the impact on biodiversity.

“Controlling parasites is one of the biggest challenges facing sheep, cattle and goat farmers worldwide. It’s the number one production loss in livestock farming, costing €2.1 billion a year to the European livestock industry and billions globally, so we’re hitting the market at the right time,” he adds.

Nick Cotter also points out that current parasite control methods are unsustainable due to increasing levels of drug resistance while existing treatments only work with varying degrees of success.

To decide which animals need treatment the Cotter Agritech software uses an advanced algorithm to evaluate a number of performance metrics including the animal’s weight, local weather conditions and the quality and availability of pasture. The software works as a mobile phone app and all the farmer has to input is relevant data about pasture availability and quality. A green light indicates the animal is performing as expected while a red light indicates it needs treatment. This process is carried out during the normal routine handling of lambs, so it is not adding to the farmer’s workload or slowing them down.

The hardware part of the Cotter Agritech system is called the Cotter Crate while the software solution is called SmartWeight. Farmers can buy the two elements as a bundle or separately as those with existing animal handling systems may just require the software. The software only option is paid for on a monthly fee basis. Both products are due for launch later this month and while the brothers have started with sheep, their solution will also work for dairy, beef and goat herds.

Vaccination time

The idea for the Cotter crate was prompted by the brothers’ first-hand experience of trying to handle frisky young lambs at vaccination time.

“It was taking all day,” Nick Cotter says. “The lambs were jumping on top of each other and getting mixed up and we were bent over at 90 degrees trying to inject them. We needed to get the lambs up to our own height, so we made a timber box sitting a builder’s trestle. However, once we put the lambs in, they jumped out and we realised we needed some way of taking the lambs’ legs out of contact with the floor. That’s how we arrived at the concept for our crate which holds the lamb under its own weight between two V-shaped walls.”

The Cotters have recently participated in AgTech, UCD’s new accelerator for agtech and food start-ups and they are both still at college. Nick is at UCC reading law and business while Jack is in his final year of process and engineering management at LIT.

To date, development costs have been approximately €350,000 which has been funded by the brothers’ other businesses with support from Limerick LEO, grant aid and prize money from entrepreneurship competitions. Toward the end of this year the company will begin a fundraising round of €1.5 million.

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