New Zealand company Halter became the first in the world to electronically move, guide and monitor the health of a dairy herd. And there’s plenty more in the pipeline for this innovative company as it strives to change the future of farming for the better.
Halter was founded in 2016 by the then 22-year-old Craig Piggott, a mechanical engineer and Rocket Lab employee who went on to launch his own ground-breaking idea. While there are other players in virtual fencing, Halter’s secret sauce is the active guiding of animals via a GPS-enabled solar-powered collar and corresponding app used by the farmer.
“Other products can only virtually fence an animal,” explains Daniel Hearn, who is Head of IP at Halter.
“They can’t move an animal between breaks daily, or to the milking shed, or away from waterways if it rains.”
Animal health and diagnostics is another unique string to Halter’s bow. The depth of data captured via the collar’s sensors can accurately detect when a cow is coming into heat, for instance, or has a sore foot.
Much of Halter’s IP relating to health and diagnostics is protected as trade secrets. There are a host of other ideas and applications which are yet to be commercialised but already have an IP strategy in place.
Having grown up on a farm and with a background in mechanical engineering, Daniel was more than happy to muck in as the “IP person slash-engineer slash-farmer” during Halter’s early start-up days. He personally engineered a more scalable version of the radio tower that gets installed on-farm.
“I was discussing ideas with Craig and he said ‘go ahead and see what you can do’. So I spent a couple of weeks down in our workshop, iterating different designs.”
Fast-forward to 2023, and there are now more than 170 Halter employees around New Zealand beavering away on the latest developments.
In his IP role, Daniel relishes the frontier-busting nature of Halter’s work – as well as its purpose.
At a high level, this is a chance to help change farming for the better – for the farmers, for the animals, and for the environment. On the daily level, I’m working on some pretty interesting machine learning models and keeping up to speed with things I’ve never worked on before. It’s exciting.
Both behind and beyond Halter’s doors, Daniel believes New Zealand has a world-class offering when it comes to machine learning and programming.
“We’ve got some incredible people here doing amazing things. And from a farming point of view, particularly pasture farming, New Zealand farmers are some of the best in the world.”
Not surprisingly, there’s been an enthusiastic uptake of Halter within the farming sector. Efficiency-focused New Zealand farmers – with their large, pasture-based herds – have the most to gain from its technology. New Zealand’s average dairy herd size dwarfs that of most other countries, while many markets, like the US, keep their cows indoors. That’s why our domestic dairy sector remains the global sweet spot for Halter, at least for now.
Says Daniel: “People often say to us, you must be planning to go global, New Zealand’s small fry, what’s your really big market? And our answer is, for now, it’s here.
“If we can fully saturate the Canterbury market, for instance, that is similar in size to the whole English dairy market. If we get Taranaki, that may be another whole European country.”
Halter’s horizons also extend beyond pasture-based dairy farms. The company’s global IP strategy covers the world’s main markets for cattle – including the US, South America, Europe, and Australia.
Prior to joining Halter, Daniel was a patent attorney with AJ Park for nine years, and the relationship between Halter and AJ Park dates back to Halter’s earliest days.
Halter’s original patent family was filed in 2018 by Anton Blijlevens, a principal in AJ Park’s engineering and IT patents team. The firm has since advised on a wide range of matters – from commercial agreements, FTO advice, through to securing strong IP protection for pre-commercialised ideas.
AJ Park’s established market reputation is also important for a young company like Halter, says Daniel, when it comes to dealing with third parties. And the firm’s breadth of experience and deep specialist knowledge can respond to the most detailed of IP questions.
“They have electronic specialists, software engineers, mechanical engineers – they have everything. They also have people who are some of the best in the business in particular areas, such as European design law, copyright in China, or patent law in the US.
If you need someone good, in a very particular area, AJ Park will have a specialist who can help.
Written by Libby Schultz, Untold Stories