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Farm Of The Week: Inventor with reason to be cock-a-hoop

Jonathan Caygill with the Easy Cow Lift

Jonathan Caygill with the Easy Cow Lift

  • by Chris Berry
 

When Dales dairy farmer Jonathan Caygill found himself at the mercy of a radio presenter’s microphone he surprised himself in announcing that he was ‘cock-a-hoop’ to have won an award for his invention. He’s still laughing about it now a week later.

“I’ve never said that about anything in my life before, that’s not the way I speak but it just came out. The presenter also told me that my smile was as wide as the marquee I was stood inside.”

The reason for Jonathan’s euphoria and uncommon use of an old phrase was that his ‘Easy Cow Lift’ rubber sling had just won Best New Product at Agriscot the major autumn agricultural show in Scotland.

It has been a highly successful year for the man who designed the product six years ago on the family farm at Manor House Farm in Rylstone, the village more famously associated with the Calendar Girls of the Women’s Institute.

When they hit the headlines they gave everyone a much-needed lift. Jonathan has done the same for his cows and now he’s aiming to replicate that right across the country.

The thought of putting what is now branded as Easy Cow Lift on general sale wasn’t something Jonathan had contemplated when he had started but he has a track record of coming up with useful ideas at home including additions to his milking parlour and altering specifications of trailers to suit the farm’s needs.

“I never had any vision of launching this on the market when I first came up with it. I just couldn’t find anything around that would do the job of getting a cow back on its feet after falling the way I wanted.

“There are many reasons why a cow can go down and stay down. It could have suffered a bad calving or have been injured from a bull; another cow could have ridden it or it could have slipped in a shed. The problem was that everything I had seen that was supposed to do the trick of getting it back up again was to my mind flawed in some way in adding to the cow’s distress.

“I began making my own product. It took a few goes before I was satisfied enough to use it regularly. But then our local vet Jonathan Stockton from Kingsway Vets, seeing how often it had helped, asked whether I could make one for him.”

That’s when he started realising that not only had he developed something that worked well on his farm it could also have real business potential amongst the 10,000 dairy farms in the UK.

Fallen stock is a problem for all farmers and with livestock prices for all cattle running well at present each animal is another prized asset.

“A new calved heifer is averaging just short of £2,000 at the moment. To have one of these on-site if it is in trouble and cannot get up is a no-brainer.

“It’s just like having a footballer or rugby player with an injury. You want him back again as soon as can. Often the best thing you can do is to run it off. With the ‘Easy Cow Lift’ the cow is lifted up and given the confidence to stand and then start walking around again, and if there is a bigger problem you can check out what that might be whilst you have the cow lifted too.

“You never know when you’re going to need it, but the sooner you get the cow back on its feet the quicker the outcome.

“Some farmers had borrowed what I had made for the vet but have now realised that what it costs to buy one is negligible compared to the saving of the cow.”

Jonathan points to his own herd and the Holstein Friesian breed generally, of which most of the UK’s dairy herd is made up. The need for them not to lose production is vital.

“The modern Holstein cows are finer bred and seem more prone to injury. They have a larger body capacity on longer, thinner legs and that can take its toll.”

The beauty of most big-selling inventions normally lies in their simplicity and Jonathan’s fits the bill. The product uses just reinforced rubber belting and galvanised steel bolted to it with loops where pallet forks hook through. Jonathan’s Weidemann telehandler then lifts the cow.

“Getting a cow up again is still a two-man job but this makes it much easier and takes far less time. You manoeuvre the fallen cow in such a way that the belting is beneath the cow’s belly. Both ends of the belting have two galvanised loops that are then slipped over the pallet forks.

“If ever a cow goes down on concrete we just slide them into the telehandler bucket and lay the belt out in the straw yards.

“We then lower the cow on to the belt, attach it to the forks and lift it back in place.”

Jonathan started putting the Easy Cow Lift on show in January at the LAMMA event. He was happy with its reception but he felt that it was lacking that single unique feature that would set it even further apart from others.

“When we were exhibiting at LAMMA the product only allowed us to pick up the cow from one side. I had a brainwave one night when I’d got back that showed me a better way of doing it, allowing us to pick up the cow from the front. I couldn’t sleep that night, got up the next morning, designed it, took it to the engineers and started making the new, improved version that we have today. What we did was to alter the loops that go on to the pallet forks so that they swivel. We can now pick up the cows from any direction.

“Picking the cow up from the front of the telehandler is the best way. If you come in with the handler over the cow’s head you can more easily control the amount of weight on the cow’s legs as you stand it back up.”

His beaming smile at Agriscot, held at the Royal Highland Show site in Ingilston, was not just down to his award. He also sold his invention to two of the judges and has now sold 150. For a moment he had his smile wiped away when another farmer approached him though.

“He told me that there was no way I would be able to sell him one. When I asked him why he told me he’d bought one from our stand at the Dairy Event in September, he’d had to use it three times since and it had saved each cow. Another result!”

More details on the device can be found at www.easycowlift.com.

The dairy operation at Manor House runs to some 200 Holstein Friesians with milk going to Dales Dairies in Grassington. Jonathan is a second-generation farmer having taken over the farm from his father and Kilnsey Show stalwart Jim Caygill about 10 years ago. His mother Mary is also involved.

The family also has 35 pedigree Luing cattle and 600 North Country Cheviot ewes. Jonathan is married to Sophie and they have two sons, William, seven, and Charlie, four.

 

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