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Thinking beyond the gate

Kiwi start-up company, Halter, has a long-term vision of fenceless farming. It's developing technology in the form of a GPS-enabled, solar-power collar for dairy cows using stimuli, such as sound, to guide dairy cows to varying areas of farmland. The company is the brainchild of two young engineering graduates, Craig Piggott (22) and Max Olson (23).

Long-term, the concept of fenceless farming has the ability to change completely how dairy farms operate – similar to the sustainable impact and efficiencies brought about by the invention of the milking machine.

The pair presented at the ICE Angels showcase in September last year, where 12 companies delivered seven- to eight-minute pitches to an audience of 500. The outcome for them was favourable. They took out the audience favourite award, which included the use of a brand-new Lexus RX for a week, and their new venture gained great interest from investors.

The nature of their company, being part of the agriculture sector, saw the Lexus General Manager tee them up with a brand-new Hilux to complete their roadie instead of the proposed Lexus RX. From there, the pair took to the roads on a seven-day road trip, driving a figure eight of the North Island – undertaking impromptu visits to local dairy farmers and completing the ultimate situational analysis for their vision to determine how they can assist in shaping dairy farming in the future.

Craig and Max met in their second year of study at the University of Auckland where both were part of an extra curricular engineering group called Formula-SAE – a team that builds a new race car each year.

 

Max was the chief engineer, leading around 40 other engineering students, and Craig was the lead powertrain engineer. Combine these engineering skills with Craig’s farming background and a curiosity about how farming could be done more efficiently and Halter was born.

“Max’s domain is everything technical with the collar, machine learning etc… he has an unbelievable work ethic and seems to be able to solve just about any engineering problem,” says Craig.

“I’m the guy who grew up on a farm, had the idea and convinced Max to join me. I do a lot of the external communications with investors and farmers, but primarily lead the field testing programme. This is because I tend to have experience of dealing with animals and understanding their behaviour.”

In a tough farming environment with low payments and poor weather conditions dampening farmers’ spirits, the tour for the young entrepreneurs was hard on a personal level, but well received in terms of their innovation.

“A lot of the farmers have been pushing for this to be in the market (which is encouraging), but at the moment we are continuing to push through our testing and development schedule and have not promised any launch dates.”

On the tour the pair drove the Hilux and used it as their sleeping quarters for the seven days – swimming in local rivers to freshen themselves.

In terms of offering advice to other start-ups they say, “Back yourselves and dream big. It’s going to be hard work anyway so you might as well have a big lofty goal”.

For more information on Halter, visit www.halter.co.nz