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How to save farmers up to $54,000 a year

In the next in our series on smart farming and innovation, we feature a company using new technology to help farmers eliminate guesswork and give them greater control over mastitis.
Sue Bell-Booth, Director of Saflex. Photo / Supplied.
Sue Bell-Booth, Director of Saflex. Photo / Supplied.

New Zealand loses about $280 million from the economy through mastitis - but a clever pump developed by a small Palmerston North company could help save a large slice of that expense.

The MixMaker, brainchild of husband-and-wife team Sue and Mark Bell-Booth, directors of Saflex Pumps Ltd, is a world-first - a fully automated teat spray system which takes all the guesswork out of mixing teat spray to protect a dairy herd against mastitis.

It also leads the world by being able to record spray usage, turning what has been an often expensive system of approximation by farmers (expensive because mastitis can be costly if teat spraying is not efficient) into a precise operation that can save money at every milking.

Research from 2012 estimated mastitis cost the dairy industry about $280m annually; DairyNZ estimated mastitis, calculated across a herd of 300 cows, cost the average farmer over $54,000 a year.

That's where Sue Bell-Booth says MixMaker comes in. A major issue for farmers, when teat spraying, is getting the mixture right.

"The spray is a mixture of water, iodine and an emollient," says Bell-Booth. "Depending on the weather and the condition of the udder, the farmer has to prepare a different mix. For example, if the weather is really wet, the farmer knows he has to mix in more emollient or the spray will just wash off.

"Most farmers usually mix up the spray in a big drum and either hand spray their herd or they have a walkover system [where the cows walk over an upwards-directed spray]."

Often, however, busy farmers or farm workers can get the mix wrong or forget to prepare a fresh batch (teat spray has to be fresh each time). A mastitis survey in 2011 revealed more than 60 per cent of farmers admitted not mixing correctly.

The result: mastitis, meaning cows have to be separated from the herd (because of the risk of infection), vet fees and anti-biotic costs are incurred and the affected cows still have to be milked but the milk cannot be sold.

"The importance of teat spray is that, after milking, the cow's milk ducts are enlarged and the risk of infection is heightened - as is the risk of cross infection through milking cups.

So we created MixMaker from a very accurate little pump we had - and developed it to be easily adjustable for variables like changes in weather or udder condition, at the press of a button."

"It takes all the guesswork out of it for the farmer," she says, "and delivers fresh spray at every milking."

The Bell-Booths developed the pump over a year and have just released it for distribution through Ecolab NZ - the company specialising in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services to food, energy, healthcare, industrial and hospitality industries.

Mark Bell-Booth was at Ecolab's sales conference in early March, demonstrating it to their North Island reps while Sue was at Fonterra's Activate 2.0 event - designed to help farmers find ways to achieve better profitability and productivity. It will also be rolled out at various field days around the country, including the ASB Innovation Zone at Central Districts Field Days.

The reception, she says, has been tremendous: "Farmers realise MixMaker is a tool which can do them a lot of good and solve a problem most want solved."

Teat spray is expensive - the cost of overuse or incorrect mixing makes this a decision that pays for itself very quickly, says Bell-Booth. Plus farmers know every day, week, month and year just how much teat spray has been applied to cows - with MixMaker's ability to track teat spraying volumes per cow, per season.

"When each drum costs more than $1200, it is extremely valuable information to know exactly what they have been using and how much has been applied. No system has offered that for them before."

The MixMaker unit sells for $3500, she says, "which sounds like a lot but with the cost of the spray, the need to apply it fresh and the cost of mastitis...we know it will pay for itself very quickly."

Read more ASBfarmsmarts innovation content here.

- NZ Herald

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