Success: Helping hand for farmers

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Dairy industry provides proving ground for ideas.

The move to bigger farms demands different strategies, says Deosan's Kip Bodle. Photo / Richard Cullwick
The move to bigger farms demands different strategies, says Deosan's Kip Bodle. Photo / Richard Cullwick

Put aside your cornflakes, please, because this morning you're going to read about mastitis in cows' udders.

It's an expensive problem, costing the country $280 million a year in lost production and treatment costs, according to Dairy NZ, which has launched a special website to tackle the problem.

Mastitis is an infection of the mammary gland that can lead to pus in milk, which is why processors test the white gold before it goes to market.

It can't be pleasant for the animals, either.

The teat is the primary defence against mastitis infection and in the past five years, says Kip Bodle, managing director of teat spray manufacturer Deosan, farmers have begun to wake up to the importance of a well-toned teat.

Traditionally, farmers used iodine-based sprays to combat mastitis, while other sprays use chlorhexidine, an antimicrobial agent.

Bodle argues that the chlorhexidine-based sprays are just as good at killing bugs but leave the teat in much better condition. They also offer a way to avoid the rising cost of iodine, caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which accounts for a third of global supply.

"Farmers are recognising the link between better teat condition [and output]," he says. "If you've got a healthier teat, it's a key preventative to ensuring no bugs can harbour in cracked skin cells and then enter into the canal and travel up into the udder.

"Teat condition could be improved across the New Zealand dairy herd and you're going to go a long way to solving this $280 million issue we have with mastitis."

Bodle grew up on a drystock farm near Morrinsville and his brothers still work the land, but he initially forged a career in law and environmental science, which took him to London.

Then came a fateful call from home: "I got an email from my brother, Mike, who was dairy farming in the Waikato, and he had a year of really bad masititis."

Mike was using an efficacious treatment called Teat-Ex (now Teat-X) but its manufacturers were withdrawing from the market, which presented the Bodle family with a business opportunity.

Kip Bodle started with the original formulation and also bought a manufacturing business in Tauranga, with what he describes as one of New Zealand's best chemists. "I've built a really good innovation team, with a microbiologist and mastitis expert and a development chemist, and that team is continuing to build [the product line].

"During the past two years, we've spent a lot of time deconstructing and reconstructing the product to really understand and gain insights into its chemistry. We have always strived to develop the best teat spray."

Needless to say, Bodle contends that Teat-X is infinitely superior to other chlorhexidine-based products.

Services to the agriculture sector are a crowded retail space and the Teat-X secret ingredient is a surfactant that binds the chlorhexidine and skin conditioning emollient together. It's a little like baking a cake and using baking powder to hold the flour, egg and milk together and make it rise, he says.

Another advantage is its penetration. Cow udders have a coating of skin oil and, often, even mud. Teat-X can penetrate all oils and detritus within one second, compared to a much longer period for other products, he claims.

"I'm pretty confident that we're leading, not only the New Zealand market in innovation and teat spray chemistry, but I we could have a good crack at being a global player in this space," he says.

Backing this assertion is independent market research showing that 90 per cent of the farmers using TeatX "highly recommend" the product, a very good result for a manufacturer.

"We're farming differently in New Zealand now," Bodle notes. "With bigger farms and herds, you've got to develop products that can do the job automatically - they only have to go through the teat sprayer and as long as they're hitting the cows' teats, you've got the best product for the job."

Bodle is cagey about expenditure on research and development and revenue figures, citing the privacy of a family business.

Besides, the new product has been commercially available only since July 1, but "we're getting wicked results in improving teat condition within really short timeframes".

"Going into the international market is definitely on our radar but we want to continue to grow our position within the New Zealand market, as where better could you get a platform to take that innovation overseas?"

- NZ Herald

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