Frank and Lynda Morphet have created a machine which has provided new efficiencies across their business. Marie-Claire Kidd reports.
According to Frank and Lynda Morphet, their innovation is not a complicated idea. The Swing Over Feed Cover, they say, is the kind of innovation dairy farmers come up with on a day-to-day basis; a simple but effective solution to an everyday problem. The difference here is the couple have pursued a patent for the invention, which means the family now has a shot at turning it into a viable enterprise to complement their organic milk business.
Frank’s invention saw them win last year’s Machinery Innovator of the Year Award at the British Farming Awards and the accolade has given the creation a profile boost and a stamp of approval from the farming community. It is something special Frank and Lynda can mention when they approach machinery retailers, engineers and manufacturers about taking the design to market.
The Swing Over Feed Cover provides a solution to multiple issues common to many dairy farmers.
It effectively reduces waste and labour and helps support dry matter intakes in cattle. It can function as a barrier to keep cows away from their food, or a cover, which comes down and presents the forage while sheltering it from weather and pests.
The design makes it easy to use and means it can be lifted and secured by one person safely. The invention process started when, like many dairy farmers, Frank, of Swarthmoor Hall Farm, near Ulverston, Cumbria, noticed his cows were pushing their feed away from themselves during feeding. It was leading to waste and meant the animals had to stretch to reach it. He started experimenting with mounting a cover on angle iron and steel piping in 2009 and, after many years of experimentation, design, development and input from his team at the farm, he created the current version.
The cover is durable plastic, meaning it is lightweight, easy to clean and can withstand the force of cows pushing against it. A rubber barrier along the bottom of the cover prevents feed from escaping and pests from entering. Because the feed is kept close to cows, they do not have to rub their necks on the barrier or strain their muscles to reach it.
Frank says: “It is mainly to keep the feed in front of cows so there is no waste. Usually, as soon as you feed them, they start pushing it out.”
The cover effectively eliminates the need to push up feed. Before introducing it, Frank and his team used to push feed up to his 160 dairy cows twice-a-day, which took them about an hour. Now it can be done in minutes and the feed stays there once presented.
He says: “It really helps with the everyday running of the farm. It took quite a lot of time to get the design and build right so it balances, but I think we have got it right now. The aim is to reduce waste and make savings in time and resources.”
Frank says his cows eat more when the need to push up feed is eliminated and they do not pick out feed like they used to. As well as presenting the feed and keeping it in place, the cover is weatherproof, so it shelters the feed from wind and rain, again reducing waste. It also helps keep off pests, particularly starlings, as Lynda explains.
“We used to have a big problem with starlings scratting in the cows’ feed, but we do not anymore. It has definitely helped with that.
“I know a lot of farmers still have starling problems. It is important, because birds such as starlings can carry pests and diseases.”
Starlings can carry E. coli, salmonella, Johne’s disease and campylobacter and research shows they pick out the cereal and protein components in cattle feed, making them a major pest on Britain’s dairy farms. AHDB Dairy farm trials on the Somerset Levels in winter 2012/13 showed starlings eat up to half their weight in cattle feed, between 30g and 50g, each day. They calculated the cost per 100 cows was up to £106 a day. A 2015/16 study by the University of Nottingham on 10 farms in Cornwall and north Devon found starlings were costing about £97 per 100 cows each day in lost feed. Loss of soya and wheat in a 240-cow herd over 180 days of winter could cost a farm more than £40,000, results suggested.
Best practice for dairy farmers dealing with starling issues is to close doors when entering and leaving feeding areas, ensure corrugations in roofs do not leave large gaps, fill gaps in sheds with expanding foam and add wire mesh across air vents and rubber flaps along door edges. The Morphets say the Swing Over Feed Cover should be another item to add to this list.
Lynda says a crucial feature of the Swing Over is it does not hurt animals: “The good thing is it tilts up and it is countermanded so it is really light to lift up. It creates a barrier so cows cannot get to the feed and when it pivots it does not hurt them. Often people put silage out with a grab and cows have been hurt and killed that way.”
Other farmers choose to use robotics to push up silage, but the Swing Over, says Frank, is a much cheaper alternative.
He says: “There is not a lot of money in dairy farming, so we need cheap and practical solutions. I think I have found one which can be replicated across other farms.
“Any farm with a feed passage or feeding a total mixed ration or buffer feeding could benefit. It has certainly helped us.”
Frank and the team applied to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for a patent on the Swing Over Feed Cover in 2013. The IPO’s process involved a global search for similar inventions.
In 2017, after four years of due process, the IPO confirmed the cover was unique and granted it a patent. The next step is for the couple to work with retailers, engineers and manufacturers to develop, mass produce and market the Swing Over, perhaps improving it to be more durable, and further down the line possibly introducing a motorised version.
On winning the Machinery Innovator of the Year Award at last year’s British Farming Awards, Frank says he was shocked to have won. He says: “I was gobsmacked to win. I am just an ordinary farmer from Cumbria.”
Lynda says: “I was the one who pushed him forward with it. It is simple but brilliant. I am confident if we could get the right partners it would be a great success.”
Feedback from farmers and the farming community has been positive, she says, especially after they received the award.
Lynda says: “We had some really good comments when we were actually at the awards. A couple on our table said ‘that is such a good idea, we have such a problem with starlings’. It helps you feel like you are on to something.”
Since receiving the award the Morphets have invested in a leaflet about the product and have taken it to shows.
Lynda says: “We went to a show at Carlisle, gave some leaflets out saying what was what and showed pictures and they seemed very interested.
“What we are wanting to do ideally is try and get somebody to take it on and do the product design. Companies which supply feed barriers and cake troughs might be able to use it to end their range. It is just a case of finding the right people to work with.”
Their challenge, like other farmers, is fitting it in with a busy farming life.
Lynda says: “We are so busy on the farm we do not get chance to work on it very often. But we believe in it and we welcome anyone who thinks they can help get it out there to more farmers.”
Whether you have invented a fantastic piece of kit born out of necessity, adapted a piece of machinery to make it more productive, pioneered a new way of doing things or are using machinery in a more profitable and efficient way with techniques such as controlled traffic farming and field mapping. You might have introduced a new technology to drive your business or adapted software to improve efficiencies. If you are a forward thinker, farm workshop engineer, tinkerer and, above all, innovator, we want to hear from you.
To enter or nominate an individual you believe deserves recognition for their creativity, visit britishfarmingawards.co.uk