8 Sep 2017

New lamb docking tool wins design award

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:25 pm on 8 September 2017

An Auckland-based industrial designer has solved a problem that has been giving sheep farmers repetitive strain injuries for years as they do something that's essential in spring - removing lambs' tails.

Nicole Austin, originally from Timaru, is the national winner of the prestigious James Dyson Award for re-designing a  lamb docking tool, which she has called Moray.

If lambs are not docked around six weeks after they're born, it can cause problems down the track, Nicole says.

To truly understand the process and the challenges faced by farmers during this highly labour-intensive season, she spent some time docking lambs herself.

“When they have long tails, faeces can collect on the rump of the lamb which can sometimes lead to deadly infections.”

The tool to do this job in farms at the moment works like a pair of LPG-powered hot irons and largely hasn't changed since the 1960s.

“It is a heavily engineered tool and comes with a huge amount of issues in terms of usability and functionality. The flame quite often blows out in the wind. It has an exposed, naked flame, and in the high country that can be quite frustrating.”

When the flame blows out it causes fluctuations in the blade temperature if that temperature drops it means the cauterisation is less effective, Nicole says.

“Lambs will experience higher pain and they bleed and that can lead to further infections.”

Her design has a shielded flame to achieve a consistent thermal performance and is a much simpler piece of kit to use.

“It’s much easier to use and is mechanically assisted.”

Moray's grip was designed with a smaller span so that it can be used by women or people with smaller hands and is 30 percent lighter than the old tool.

The invention took Nicole nine months and she’s hopeful she can bring it to market in around a year.