New pastures for Shepherd

By: Andrew Hobbs

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Justin Dunn is looking at nationwide distribution for his automated smart feeder, The Shepherd, after improvements made in a strong 2019

New pastures for Shepherd
The Shepherd can be programmed to feed sheep six times a day

 

Agricultural innovator, feedlot owner and school principal, Justin Dunn has a lot on his plate – and with regular feedings, so do the sheep under his care.

With commitments beyond his feedlot in Temora, NSW, Dunn says he was having trouble making sure his lambs were fed when required – normally up to six times a day when they first arrive on the property, he says.

"Feedlotting lambs is very labour intensive, and the only way we could afford to be able to continue with feedlotting lambs while having other professions was to automate the process," he says.

"Everyone is looking for the same scenario – you can hire help, but the issue is the reliability of that help come Christmas, come holidays, come weekends. These sheep don’t stop eating just because we want to have a break."

To solve the issue, Dunn developed a solar-powered automated sheep feeder, equipped with a trough design and with adjustable features to provide controlled feed volumes.

The Shepherd – which saw him named Agri-Innovator of the year at the Henty Machinery Field Days in 2018 – is available in 18m, 21m and 36m versions – though larger models are possible – and can be programmed to feed several times daily.


Check out our report from the 2018 Henty Machinery Field Days here


"It doesn’t remove husbandry all together… but it just takes away the labour component… We just set a program now – drop them in the yard, set a program that runs 14 days and just monitor. Then in 50 days they come out as fat sheep ready for market," he says.

"A lot of farmers know how to manage their pastures and manage paddocks, but don’t know a lot about the digestive systems of sheep and how to actually feed them if you have got to do it intensively. I think farmers have really learned how to feed sheep in this drought."

Since the win at Henty, Dunn secured a minimum viable product grant from the NSW government, which he says helped him trial product changes without the risk of losing too much money.

"We have since scaled it up so there is more logic control going into them that wasn’t in the original models, but now it is definitely far more automated," Dunn says.

"If I want to I can log into the cameras and look at what is going on, but my feeders will send me an error message if something goes wrong through the texting system."

Sales of the Shepherd only started last year – but have turned over $500,000 in that time, he says, as more farmers turn to feeding equipment to get them through the drought.

"At the moment they are just walking out the door – we can’t produce enough of them. Scaling production is our biggest issue at the moment," he says.  

"We have got them going to Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, NSW, everywhere."

"This is a device that could really be Australia wide – to scale it up to that point our next step is to look at a distribution network. Whether that be franchising or a number of things – it is solid enough and good enough for us to be able to do that."

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