Treatment stores

Targeted therapy reduces drug resistance in livestock

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

This business is still thriving and employs eight people. Their second company, Cotter Organic Lamb, was established in 2019, followed shortly by the third company, Cotter Agritech, which focuses on reducing drug consumption in agriculture while increasing productivity and profitability.

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

“Science tells us that about 80% of parasites live in about 20% of animals. Therefore, over-treating is wasteful and has no benefit. Our targeted selective treatment reduces the use of anti-parasitic drugs by up to 50 %, prevents parasite resistance and reduces the impact on biodiversity.

“Parasite control is one of the biggest challenges faced by sheep, cattle and goat farmers around the world. This is the first production loss in livestock farming, costing the European livestock industry €2.1 billion a year and billions worldwide, so we are coming to market at the right time.” , he adds.

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

To decide which animals should be treated, Cotter Agritech software uses an advanced algorithm to assess a number of performance parameters, including animal weight, local weather conditions and pasture quality and availability. The software works like a mobile phone app and all the farmer needs to input is relevant data on pasture availability and quality. A green light indicates that the animal is functioning as expected while a red light indicates that it needs treatment. This process is done during the normal routine handling of lambs, so it does not add to the farmer’s workload or slow him down.

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

Vaccination time

The idea for the Cotter Crate was sparked by the brothers’ direct experience of trying to handle young frisky lambs at the time of vaccination.

“It took all day,” says Nick Cotter. “The lambs were jumping on top of each other and mixing up and we were bent over 90 degrees trying to inject them. We needed to bring the lambs up to our height, so we made a wooden crate that rested on a builder’s trestle. However, once we put the lambs in, they jumped up and we realized we needed a way to get the lambs’ legs off the ground. This is how we arrived at the concept of our cage which keeps the lamb under its own weight between two V-shaped walls.”

The Cotters recently participated in AgTech, UCD’s new accelerator for food and agribusiness start-ups and they’re both still in college. Nick is at UCC reading Law and Business while Jack is in his final year of Process Management and Engineering at LIT.

Development costs to date are around €350,000, which have been funded by the brothers’ other businesses with support from Limerick LEO, grants and entrepreneurship competition prizes. Towards the end of this year, the company will start a fundraising of 1.5 million euros.