The Irish Times – Monday, September 3, 2012Helps to monitor a herd’s health


      Reprodoc: AT ONE TIME, the town of Fermoy was famous as the home of Faber-Castell pencils. Now, reproductive physiologist Dan Ryan wants to put it on the map as a centre of world excellence in the use of ultra-sonography to improve the wellbeing and reproductive management of valuable beef and dairy cattle.

      Ryan’s company Reprodoc has specialised in the reproductive management of dairy herds for the last 20 years. It uses ultrasound to image a cow’s uterus and capture information about the reproductive system. This helps the farmer make more informed decisions and timely interventions.

      Up to now, Ryan’s focus has been on the Irish market but he recognised that with the right marriage of imagery, data and processing, there was no reason his system couldn’t go global.

      The key lay in developing a cloud-based technology that automatically relayed information collected on the farm back to a central location where it could be analysed and a full status report sent electronically to the farmer.

      “It was a big leap to fully automate the process and we needed outside expertise,” says Ryan whose company employs 10 people and has self-funded the development of the technology. “We have been working with Prof Paul Whelan from the Centre for Image Processing and Analysis at DCU with assistance from Enterprise Ireland, and Dr John Mallon, a leading expert in this field, has joined our company.”

      Ryan has spent his whole career in the reproductive management of herds and worked with Teagasc before starting Reprodoc. He studied for his PhD in the US and developed a portable sonography unit his company uses in collaboration with Colorado-based EI Medical. With the newly developed information processing technology now in place, a technician anywhere in the world can use the Reprodoc system.

      Ryan says Reprodoc is the only company currently offering this service. As a result, there is keen interest from farmers, farming organisations and animal nutrition companies. In Ireland, the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation has been a strong supporter of the project.

      The technology can have other applications. For example, to assess the impact of changes in diet on reproductive health. This makes it of interest to animal nutrition companies, and trials on new products from three manufacturers are underway.

      “The farming community is receptive to this type of technology as it’s unbiased – we’re giving them facts about their herds’ wellbeing, not trying to sell them anything,” says Ryan.

      “By using the information we gather, they can make changes to how herds are managed and ultimately this makes for healthier animals, better food quality for consumers and more cost-efficient food production.”

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