Male farmer looking on as two sheep walk through the Cotter create
Cotter Crate sitting in a farmyard. Fields in the background.

Cotter Agritech has developed the award-winning Cotter Crate and SmartWorm app, an innovative hardware and software solution to help sheep farmers reduce handling time and labour costs, and tackle worm resistance via reducing wormer use by approximately 40%, and by identifying worm resilient replacements.

Founders

Developed by founders Nick and Jack Cotter who grew up on the family organic sheep farm encouraging them to be curious and innovative. The brothers are serial entrepreneurs having founded 2 previous businesses. The first business Cotter Bros Firewood was founded in 2011, when Nick was 11 and Jack was 13. This has grown into an industry-leading domestic firewood producer selling nationwide. The 2nd business, Cotter Organic Lamb, was started in 2019, which direct sells the organic lamb produced on the home farm, which has won several Irish Quality Food Awards and featured on The Late Late Show in 2020.

Nick is currently studying Law and Business at UCC and is going into his final year. He is a 2019 UCC Quercus Innovation Scholar, and a 2022 Nuffield Scholar. Jack is studying Process and Engineering Management in Limerick Institute of Technology and holds degrees in Agricultural Mechanisation and Agricultural Engineering. Both Jack and Nick were named in the Sunday Independents 2020 Top 30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs.

The brothers have won several awards to date with the Cotter Agritech venture including Best Overall Start-up at the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Arena Awards 2019 and Best Sustainable Innovation at the 2020 RDS Spring Awards. Nick represented Ireland and Europe in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards 2022 and became Global Champion pitching the Cotter Agritech business.

Cotter Crate

The Cotter Crate is a sheep handling crate that makes carrying out stock management tasks, for both lambs and adult sheep, quick, easy, and safe, including dosing, vaccinating, tagging, dagging, weighing, mouthing, body condition scoring, and 3-way drafting. Developed by sheep farming brothers Jack and Nick Cotter, the Cotter Crate was created having recognised the industry’s need for a handling system that focuses on making lamb handling easier and caters to adult sheep. The result is a simple to use system, where the animal is comfortably held under its own weight at operator height, without any pressure being applied, resulting in a calm handling experience for both handler and livestock and reducing animal handling time by up to 50%.

SmartWorm App

The Cotter Crate integrates with the SmartWorm app, which uniquely enables sheep farmers to move to more sustainable, targeted selective worming of sheep based on an advanced algorithm to help tackle drug resistance. The advanced algorithm identifies which animals will/won’t benefit from a wormer treatment in real time. The algorithm calculates a lamb’s potential growth based on several factors including weight gain, rainfall, temperature, pasture availability and pasture quality. It gives each lamb an individual target and if lambs are not reaching this target, it recommends treating the animal for worms. This enables a farmer to reduce their drug use by 40% without any impact to animal performance. The algorithm has been validated in research projects with the UCD Lyons Farm and Queens University Belfast.

Collaboration with PEM Technology Gateway

Cotter Agritech approached PEM Technology Gateway to provide technical assistance from an engineering point of view to achieve cost reduction ahead of the Cotter Crate launch. Utilising the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher Scheme, the company sought assistance from PEM to study the crate in its current state to identify and design changes that could be made to the crate’s design to improve/simplify/achieve cost reduction. This was key to achieving an affordable, robust, highly mobile product with a lifespan of 10+ years on-farm, therefore improving value proposition

Technical assistance from PEM helped Cotter Agritech to reach a go-to-market prototype of their sheep handling crate. Under the 1st Innovation voucher, work was focused on the on and off ramps in the product and achieved 30% cost reduction and 23% weight reduction on those 2 parts of the 3-part product.

The 2nd innovation voucher sought assistance to achieve a similar level of cost reduction on the main crate, which is the other element of the 3-part product. PEM evaluated the current design and suggested and implemented suitable measures to reduce manufacturing cost. This work was essential as the product was currently too expensive to make.

Manufacturing Solutions

The structures presented to PEM were complicated, heavy, and expensive to manufacture. PEM redesigned the 2 ramps to be lighter, have fewer parts and be more manufacturable. The parts also have more consistency regarding material and dimensions which has reduced manufacturing costs.

Specific offramp design improvements:

  • Significantly improved drafting mechanism (lighter, simpler, reduced cost, fewer parts, less force required to operate)
  • Improved gate structure (better rigidity, stronger, more straight forward assembly,)
  • Various other modifications to achieve overall goal of being lighter, simpler to manufacture, and at a reduced cost with less parts involved

Specific Onramp design improvements:

  • Implementation of tabbing and slotting technique to make assembly far more efficient
  • Significant simplification of floor design
  • Complete overall of anti-backing design from scratch, significantly reducing manufacturing costs and weight
Close up of the Cotter Crate in a farm yard

Product Launch

PEM through the two Innovation vouchers assisted the company in achieving an affordable, robust, highly mobile product with a lifespan of 10+ years on-farm, therefore significantly improving value proposition and enabling them to achieve a launch of the product in Ireland and the UK, which was held at the Lamma Agri Show in Birmingham in May 2022.

Demonstration by Cotter Crate Founders to group of farmers at the Lamma Agri Show.
Launch at Lamma Agri Show

Headline improvements delivered by PEM Technology Gateway:

  • 22% weight reduction in onramp
  • 23% weight reduction in offramp
  • 30% reduction in manufacturing cost of 2 ramps
  • Other criteria achieved: more manufacturable, easier to operate, making the parts more consistent, more robust, and reliable.

Since the launch Cotter Agritech have completed €120k in pre-sales to date, and currently closing more deals with clients including the Royal Veterinary College. Other achievements have included presenting the innovation at the Sheep Veterinary Society Conference, coverage with the Farmers Journal & Farmer Guardian, and winning a Royal Highland Show Technical Innovation Award for the crate. Nick was also selected to represent Ireland with Cotter Agritech for the 2022 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. Out of over 1,000 participants worldwide, Nick reached the Top 60, then Top 18 and finally made it to the grand final of 6 participants, being the only representative from Europe. Nick went on to become Global Champion with the idea, winning $40,000 for Cotter Agritech.

See the Crate in use in the links below:

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