Goat wrangling in the bush

Innovation is as much about how people use as a tool as the technology we develop. It’s easy to lose sight of this as you are developing a product and growing a business, but it is a theme that runs through our time in Namibia.

The EIO Team has been focused on developing a system that will improve animal health and increase profitability for farmers by detecting mastitis in dairy animals. Of course we know mastitis occurs in other animals - any mammal that lactates can have the issue - but we focus on the professional milkers. 

We knew coming to Namibia was a long-shot on the dairy front. It doesn’t have a huge dairy industry, but Dr. Haakuria was insistent that this would be a transformative technology. This week we saw two completely different sides of agriculture in Namibia, and had our eyes opened to the opportunity farmers here can see in our tool.

Namib SuperFarm is the largest commercial dairy in the country. Milking 1400 cows a day, it stands up in every way to the commercial dairies in Canada. Opened in 2009, they have a Holstein herd that is largely Canadian genetics, a 64-stall rotary milker, and use a number of technologies that are becoming standard in dairies around the world. We know how to work in a place like this.

Two days later, we were on the road for a completely new adventure. Dr. Haakuria had arranged for us to go to a village in the Erongo region to try our device on goats. We were well off the beaten path when we arrived at a homestead with roughly 80 goats in a pen surrounded by communal range. In the time it took us to register that there wasn’t a dairy goat in the bunch, Dr. Haakuria and the others had organized and moved into the pen to catch them. It took less than 15 minutes for us to screen the entire herd.

With the work done, Dr. Haakuria explained to us that in these villages they raise goats for meat. Each family has a homestead, with 10 to 12 families in a village, for a rough estimate of 1000 goats. They graze their animals, beef cattle and goats, on the communal range.

Mastitis is a significant issue for the goat farmers because the mothers can not provide adequate nutrition to their young when they have an infection. Unlike dairy animals that are observed multiple times a day, it is hard to keep tabs on the udder health of free-range goats. Our tool can literally give these farmers a snap-shot of the udder health of their animals.

Suddenly it made sense. We have been so focused on dairy for human consumption that we hadn’t realized the opportunity beyond that sector. It also helped explain why so many sheep farmers back home get excited when we explain what we’re doing - they have the same issue.

Farmers are natural innovators. They are looking for solutions that work, and will use whatever tool makes the most sense for the job at hand. It took a pharmacist (and weekend goat farmer) in Namibia to show us the opportunity we were missing. It’s amazing what we can learn when we look through someone else’s eyes.

Video: Damir uses the sensor to screen goats for mastitis in a small village in the Erongo Region of Namibia.