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Transforming veterinary practice in the food chain

Posted on 24/10/2017

RAFT Solutions Ltd are taking innovative research into agricultural practice with the support of KTN and Innovate UK.

Veterinary medicine has a vital role to play in animal health and welfare and in the sustainability, security and safety of the food supply chain. Livestock vets can be the bridge between emerging academic research and its translation into practice through their contact with farmers ‘on-the-ground’. RAFT was established by the Bishopton Veterinary Group in 2010 and joined by Synergy Farm Health in 2014, to act as a catalyst to meet this demand.

One example of RAFT’s transformational approach is in dairy production. In 2014, the UK dairy industry accounted for 17.8% of agricultural production worth £4.6bn in market prices (data from the House of Commons library 2016). Artificial insemination in dairy farming is essential for calving which enables cows to produce milk. Good fertility performance is the cornerstone of a profitable livestock enterprise and inefficiencies in calving have been estimated to cost £204m annually.

Many different factors affect the success of artificial insemination. The use of semen of poor quality results in low conception rates and cattle being culled as barren. Semen quality is conventionally measured by microscopy and the human eye which can only provide a subjective measure of quality. RAFT sought Innovate UK support to research and develop a new service for measuring semen quality.

Jonathan Statham and David Whincup look at a sample of semen.

A step change in innovation

Supported by an award from Innovate UK, RAFT developed SemenRate for measuring sperm quality in cattle. SemenRate combines computer assisted sperm analysis (CASA) with flow cytometry and consultation for the measurement of semen quality. The application of this technology now allows the objective measure of multiple factors effecting semen quality and the selection of high quality semen for increased conception rates. The technology has started to be taken up in the dairy sector and has now been extended to the measurement of porcine and equine semen quality. A delivery network has been established and samples accepted from around the UK and Ireland.

RAFT’s approach to translational research represents a step change in innovation. Research findings are translated by experienced veterinarians who are in a unique position to record research findings and implement developments resulting in new products and services. This has enabled RAFT to grow from one to five employees and involve an extended team of over forty veterinarians.

RAFT’s consultancy and training business has also grown, including the launch of the Cattle Lameness and the planned Cattle Breeding Academies. Current active R&D projects focus on veterinary clinical data surveillance and sustainable high welfare intensive pig production.

How did the KTN and Innovate UK help?

Since the formation of RAFT Solutions Ltd, RAFT have been working with the Agri-food team at the KTN to build relationships with key academic and industry collaborators. Starting with attendance at KTN sponsored meetings and an initial application for a £5,000 Innovation Voucher, RAFT has developed a number of R&D projects with the aim of broadening the scope and participation of veterinarians within the Agri-food sector.

  • KTN guided RAFT through the available business support mechanisms
  • Introduced RAFT to a wide- ranging network of expertise
  • KTN helped RAFT make new business and research connections
  • Helped RAFT with winning grants worth over £340K from competitive tendering and involvement in projects valued at over £3.2M, with partners including Bernard Mathews Ltd, Harbro Ltd, Optisense Ltd, Zoetis UK Ltd, Innovent Technology Ltd, Fera Science Ltd, Newcastle and Cranfield Universities.

Jonathan Statham, Chief Executive, RAFT Solutions said:

“The involvement of the KTN and the award of Innovate UK grants has been transformational for our business. The KTN’s support was essential in our understanding of business support mechanisms available through Innovate UK and in guiding us through the applications process. Thanks to this support, we have been able to turn our ideas into commercial services.”

You can find out more about RAFT Solutions and their SemenRate technology here.

If you have an innovative agri-tech idea that you would like to take forward please feel free to contact a member of the KTN Agri-Food Team.

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