Past and Current Research Programmes

Innovating for a more profitable, enjoyable and sustainable future in sheep farming.

Could a camera really recognise a sheep's face?
Could you make sheep AND LAMB handling easier?
Not all sheep need worming do they?
Can we breed worm tolerant sheep?
Could a camera really recognise a sheep's face?
Could you make sheep AND LAMB handling easier?
Not all sheep need worming do they?
Can we breed worm tolerant sheep?
Could a camera really recognise a sheep's face?
Could you make sheep AND LAMB handling easier?
Not all sheep need worming do they?
Can we breed worm tolerant sheep?

Our R&D Farm 👩‍🌾

Based in the South West of Ireland, our farm is split into two blocks - a 100 acre lowland farm based in Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick, and a 200 acre mountain farm based in Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. Our flock compromises a few hundred performance recorded, Scottish Blackface Mountain ewes. The best 1/3 of these are bred to a scotch ram for replacements, the middle 1/3 to a Texel ram, and first time lambers are bred to a Charollais ram.

New technologies are piloted here, and the best ones are put forward for further validation work in university and commercial trials. Check out the video below produced by France 2, and watched by 4+ million people, showcasing the lowland farm and our organic, 100% grass fed lamb boxes (go to for more info).


2024 R&D Projects

💪 Breeding Worm Tolerant Sheep

Trial using SmartWorm's data to breed worm resistance and resilience in sheep.

Collaborators: 5 sheep farmers (IRE/NI).

Benefit to sheep farmers
Cheaper and easier than current methods of breeding for this trait, as all it requires it to use the SmartWorm app at monthly weighing intervals.

In addition, faster genetic progress is expected as SmartWorm identifies both worm resistant and resilient sheep, increasing the genetic selection pool size.

🪱 SmartWorm International Trials

With SmartWorm validated in IRE/UK, we have moved on to international markets trials.

🇳🇿NZ 2nd year trials. 6 farms (North/South Islands) and Lincoln University

Collaborators: B+LNZ, Vet Services & Lincoln University

🇨🇦CA 1st year trials. 2 farms (Alberta).

Collaborators: Lakeland College

Read about our 2023 NZ trial results

🐑 Facial Recognition

Trialing in Ireland (our R&D farm) and on 6 New Zealand farms (BLNZ project) on weigh crates.

Benefit to sheep farmers
Lower cost individual animal identification in regions where RFID ear tags are not legally mandated. The hope is this technology will enable higher adoption of SmartWorm via reducing the cost of individually identifying sheep.

Eventually, it is envisaged that cameras are placed in paddock, where farmers will benefit from automated:

- lameness detection
- external parasite detection
- mothering up of lambs

Read more

🛞 Mobile Cotter Crate

Development of road legal trailer unit for the Cotter Crate. This has been a target for us, with customer feedback indicating many farmers have fragmented land.

This project is near completion, with a launch coming in Q2 2024. A small trailer is being offered for the crate only, and a large trailer that carries the crate + enough hurdles to make a mobile yard.

Benefit to sheep farmers
Easier, faster and safer sheep handling made accessible to farmers with fragmented farms (not just on their main block).

🐄 SmartWorm for Cattle

Field trials are beginning into SmartWorm for cattle in Summer 2024. More details will be announced later in the year. Stay tuned!


Previous R&D Work

Keep scrolling to read about our Cotter Crate Sheep Handler R&D, and our SmartWorm TST App trials.

The Cotter Crate Story

Necessity is the mother of invention.

Having gone organic, the Cotters struggled with vaccinating small young lambs in a traditional race. They said there must be an easier way.

A builders trestle and timber boards were used to bring the lamb to operator height and deal with them one at a time.

The first model failed as lambs were not properly restrained and being sheep, they just jumped out of the box!

They worked on a new model that would restrain the lamb by taking their feet out of contact with the ground. This was continuously improved over time, to incorporate spray can and dose gun holders.

Jack Cotter was completing a degree in Agricultural Engineering in LIT, and took on improving the crate to be sellable as his final year project.

On the advice of ag-inventor Paddy Halton, the crate was showcased at the Ploughing's Innovation Arena and a patent was filed. The reception was unprecedented, winning the Best Agri-Engineering and Best Overall Startup awards. Jack also won the Engineers Ireland Student Engineer of The Year Award.

Cotter Agritech was incorporated by Jack and Nick, and commercialisation began with feasibility studies and desk research.

The team attempted to sell the lamb focused product, but farmers expressed a desire to be able to handle all sizes of sheep. The hard decision was made to take the long road, and invest in re-designing the unit to handle both lambs and adult sheep.

A testing programme began, visiting each farm monthly from May - October. Stats:

- 18 commercial sheep farmers across IRE/UK
- 65,000km travelled
- >60,000 sheep handled in a single prototype

We put 10 years of use into the one prototype, allowing us to back the production crate with a 10 year warranty as no mechanical failures occurred.

The production unit was finalised once the point was reached with test farmers that they said: "there's nothing more to add to it".

We invested heavily in our own manufacturing facility. The Cotter Crate launched in Ireland and the UK at the LAMMA show in Birmingham, England in May 2022. The crate was received with industry aclaim, winning a commendation at the 2022 Royal Highland Show, and Best Newcomer at the Ploughing's Innovation Arena Awards.

Cotter Crate adoption increased significantly, becoming one of the fastest growing sheep handlers in IRE/UK. Orders were taken in Canada, the USA, and Germany for delivery in 2024, demonstrating a truly global audience for the Cotter Crate's design.


SmartWorm Validation Work

SmartWorm has been successfully validated in Ireland and the UK in trials across 2020/21/22/23 (scroll to read more). Early validation trials have also been completed in New Zealand which has shown great promise (read about our 2023 NZ trial results).


Reducing Anthelmintic use at our home farm

Having converted to organic in 2014, our certifying body 'Organic Trust' instructed us to make efforts to reduce drug use to 'as much as necessary but as little as possible'.

We took up vaccination to reduce Antibiotic use. We did some desk research and found the targeted selective treatment (TST) approach for reducing Anthelmintic use pioneered by Dr. Andrew Greer and Dr. Fiona Kenyon. It is based on the 80/20 rule - that 80% of parasites are in only ~20% of the sheep, so many sheep do not need worming at all.

We began testing this by initially using individual faecal egg counts to determine treatment need. This proved expensive and labour intensive. We moved to using a visual assessment combined with a weight gain target for lambs, and any who didn't meet the criteria were wormed. This also proved troublesome as weight gain potential is different for each individual and for every year; managing withdrawal dates was complicated and drenching became a time consuming task.


An app to compliment the Cotter Crate

The team wanted to add a low-cost weighing offering to the Cotter Crate, whereby your phone would be used as the weight display.

It was during ideation of this app's features that SmartWorm was born, where we decided to add a worm treatment decision support function. It was intended to be quick, simple, cost-effective, easily learned and allow the worming decision to be made sheep-side. A simple green (no dose) and red (dose) indication was put forward, and a set of algorithms were incorporated and developed that used easily obtainable farm information to do the calculations and give an accurate treatment recommendation in real time.


Trials at UCD, QUB and 18 commercial sheep farms

After initial validation at our R&D farm, trials were commissioned on 18 commercial farms and at 2 universities across Ireland and the UK (UCD/QUB).

On each farm, a group of spring-born lambs who were grazed together were managed identically, only one variable was different - their anthelmintic treatment protocol. The control group was treated according to the farms usual protocol (once a month or at a epg threshold from a faecal egg count), and the other group assessed monthly using the SmartWorm app and either dosed/not dosed, with different algorithms used on different farms.

The results were encouraging. There was a negligible final weight difference on all farms between the two treatment groups. Dosing reductions ranged from 0% - 42%. More research and trials were needed to refine the algorithms and achieving higher treatment reductions consistently.

2021 trial results detail

Continued trials at UCD, QUB and on commercial sheep farms

A 2nd year of trials ran on properties from May - September 2022 with a new set of algorithms. Excellent drench reductions of 45-58% were achieved.

Negligible performance loss was observed. Note this is by design as the team have been conservative in selecting animals to be left undrenched to avoid any risk of loss of performance and subsequent unwillingness of farmers to use the tool.

From a practical point of view, the app also worked much better as it was now integrated with TruTest equipment and auto drafters. This meant groups could be sorted by setting up a draft on the SmartWorm app that would instruct the auto drafter to send 'dose' animals to the left and 'no dose' animals to the right, and 'Control' animals straight on.

2022 trial results detail

2023 - IRE/UK beta testing and Beef+LambNZ trials

The SmartWorm app was made available to ~100 farmers across Ireland and the UK for final beta testing and debugging, ahead of it being made available to all Irish/UK based sheep farmers in 2024.

After an email from NZ sheep vet Dave Warburton, trials began in New Zealand's North Island in 2023 on winter trade lambs in collaboration with Beef+LambNZ. 3 farms were enrolled from May - August 2023. The trial design mirrored the work previously carried out in Ireland and the UK. Half of the group on each farm were blanket treated monthly, the other half were treated using SmartWorm's recommendations monthly. An average dose reduction of 49% was achieved, again, with negligible performance differences.

A 2nd year of NZ trials started in Feb 2024 and is following lambs from weaning onwards, comprising 6 commercial farms and 1 University across the North and South Islands.

Read the 2023 Beef+Lamb NZ trial results

Prestigious research partners

We have been very fortunate to develop our products with some of the best people in ag research.

Research/Partner Contact Form

We are always looking for partners enthusiastic about future sheep farming tools.

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