A farmer's practical knowledge is crucial to the design of efficient farm equipment and tools, even fairly simple ones, according to Andrew Kenny, a 36-year-old Beachburg dairy farmer.
His own recent invention is proof that farmer-driven, small-scale innovation can make a big difference in the industry. From his dairy operation experience - 40 cows on 200 acres - Kenny knows that cows in tie-in stalls can get bored and play with their waterbowls. He also knows that, in addition to this water mischief, normal spillage during drinking can erode an operator's profit when water-soaked bedding or feed in and around stalls is ruined, and when health problems arise as a result.
Having researched and tested waterbowls for over a year, Kenny says that many dairy farmers are unhappy with their current watering systems, even those on the market claiming to be spill-free. His solution is a newly-designed waterbowl that conserves water and keeps feed dry.
Kenny calls his invention the "radically different" Kendu Zero-Spill Waterbowl because it eliminates not only complaints about spillage, but also about the bulkiness, inflexibility and proneness to breakage of traditional bowl systems.
The folks from OMAFRA were sufficiently impressed that Kenny's invention-which he is in the process of patenting-has been nominated for Premier's Award for Innovation Excellence. The winner will be announced soon, and will receive the top prize of $100K.
To some farmers, the shortcomings of their current waterbowl system may seem like a minor problem, not worth worrying about. But consider Kenny's analysis and reasoning: when feed gets wet it is less palatable, so cows consume less and their milk production is restricted. When bedding gets wet it provides a warm moist environment for bacteria to multiply and cause mastitis or foot rot. Wet stalls also cause soft hooves susceptible to bruising and foot ulcers, ailments that require expensive treatments and lead to many involuntary culls.
Kenny says preventing such problems creates small economies which can make a big difference to farmers' bottom lines of profitability over a long period. Wet feed rejected by cows must be quickly removed, a laborious task that needs to be undertaken daily. Farmers estimate that at least 3.8 percent of feed is wasted
simply because it becomes wet. That's $4000 worth of feed annually for an average 50-cow herd.
According to Kenny, the shallow, round bowls almost universally used in dairy farming over the past 80 years are flawed because they permit a cow to activate the valve with its nose while drinking or playing' and to splash while the valve is depressed and continues to flow.
The new age of cow-watering would see cows drink more and play to their hearts' content with the Kendu Zero-Spilldeep design. The high-rimmed and pliable bucket keeps the water level at about two-inches which Kenny claims, at 25L per minute, is a "flow (that) encourages increased water consumption with the highest flow valve in the world."
"It doesn't make financial sense to use antiquated machinery to plant, harvest and feed a dairy ration, so why use a waterbowl based on a 1920's design for this crucial job of watering?" Kenny asks. "A $50 waterbowl can do a lot of damage to feed that took $100K worth of equipment to produce."
While Kenny's mornings and evening are committed to milking, he uses his daytime hours to market his $95-waterbowl. Since the buckets hit the market in October, he's sold more than 150, which are being used-often one per farm on a trial basis-on 65 dairy operations from Truro, Nova Scotia to Chilliwack, BC.
His marketing education at Peterborough's Sir Sandford Fleming College has enabled him to make his new-found enterprise-"Kendu Innovations"-as efficient and customer friendly as possible. A toll-free number (1-866 482-3367) makes ordering easy, and his manufacturer in Wallenstein, Ontario ships all orders directly to the customer. In Ontario, a 30% environmental cost-share program is offered for replacing any waterbowls with the Kendu Zero Spill.
Meanwhile, researchers from the George Morris Center-an independent Guelph-based think-tank that provides industry decision makers with information affecting the Canadian agri-food sector-are looking for a sponsor to study the economic and environmental benefits of conversion to the Kendu system.
Aside from selling his invention, which will be on display at the upcoming Ottawa Valley Farm Show (15 to 17 March), Kenny s passion is to help other farmers turn their clever inventions and home-grown innovations into industry-ready products.
"I'm looking to help farmers get their inventions to market," Kenny says. "I've had to learn a lot in a short amount of time, so I can give them a lot of shortcuts and insight."