Innovation and the gentle touch in NZ

Being called out at all hours of the night to perform an emergency c-section on a distressed cow is all in a night’s work for Ursula Haywood.

Spring is the busiest time of the year for the Waikato dairy vet - but this year it’s even more hectic, with the runaway success of her farming invention.

" I knew about this problem, so I just had to figure out how to solve it."
Ursula Haywood, Veterinarian

Attending hundreds of dairy farms in her nine years of practice, Haywood found many farmers were struggling with tube feeding calves.

The procedure is common to deliver vital nutrients to sick calves but can be unpleasant and stressful for both farmer and calf. Even with the gentlest touch, the rigid equipment often causes damage to the young animal’s oesophagus.

“I knew about this problem, so I just had to figure out how to solve it,” Ursula says. “The first prototype worked really well, even though it was a dodgy-looking prototype made from items bought from everywhere and held together with tape.”

“But we got it into some farmers’ hands and they were rapt with it - so that was all the encouragement we needed, really.”

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With the comfort of calves foremost in her mind, Ursula spent two years developing a soft, flexible tube feeder which acts with a syringe-like motion.

Not only is the product easier and faster to use, it’s much safer and more humane. Tests show a 90 per cent reduction in stress caused to the calf, measured by kicking, bleating and heart rate.

In June, she and her husband and business partner Mark launched the Antahi TrustiTuber and FlexiTuber at Fieldays at Mystery Creek in Hamilton.

The pair caused a stir, winning the Tompkins Wake Commercialisation Award for innovation and plaudits from attending farmers. The feeders are now stocked at vets nationwide, with the Haywoods receiving 3,500 orders for the equipment in the first month alone.

Ursula, 32, hails from the small Manawatu farming community of Glen Oroua. She attained a Bachelor in Veterinary Science at Massey University, and moved to Waikato as a graduate. She now works at the Tirau Vet Centre.

She and Mark met at a rowing championship in Cambridge, where they laughingly admit it was love at first sight.

“Ursula was working in Tirau but there weren’t many boys there, so she latched on to me pretty quickly,” Mark jokes.

Mark, an agribusiness manager at ANZ Hamilton, knew they were onto a winner with Ursula’s invention.

“The existing feeders had been around for a while, so there was a real opportunity to come up with something kinder and safer,” he said.  

As for the future - the pair plan to grow Antahi in New Zealand, then take their innovation worldwide. With interest already coming in from Australia and further afield, it will be only a matter of time before calves everywhere can breathe - and feed - easy.

Kathryn Boyde is a contributing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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