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Batt-Latch Feedback - Page 2
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    The Batt-Latch timers are in big demand at this time of the year in NZ, as farmers realise the herd can be trained very easily at the start of the season. But our staff are busy making these and shipping them, so any delivery delays should be minimal.

    The bird-nesting season is upon us, and soon many sheds up and down the country will be the subject of nesting attempts. Nests in tractors are a common source of fires, often writing off the tractor. We have not made a product to scare birds, as there are several already in the marketplace that appear to do a good job.

    However, one of our biggest Batt-Latch using customers, Frank Usmar from Feilding, has discovered how a Batt-Latch can be used to scare birds away from sheds.

    Simply set the timer up to release in the middle of each night, secure it to the inside of a shed wall with the strap, and stretch a long metal spring gate down to it, so that when it releases, the spring and hook will smash into the underneath of the shed's roof (not too hard). Frank says that after three or four nights of this massive one-off noise, there will be no birds nesting in the shed!

    Brilliant work Frank, and we hope some farmers get plenty of use out of this idea.

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    Novel Ways will have an outdoor site at Fieldays this year, in front of the main Pavilion (site E52). We will have plenty of stock of Batt-Latch timer kits, and a few of the new remote controlled units.

    We also have a demo gate mechanical latch controlled by the timer, with alternate open and close actions. This might be useful for large loads, dog kennel and chicken coop doors, etc. Each time the timer hits an event, the latch goes to the opposite state. We were asked about this as a locking system for parks and reserves at night. An access gate can be unlocked early in the morning and locked in the evening, with a slightly modified gate timer and a simple mechanical fitting. No other power supply needed.

    Other points of interest on our site will be the greatly improved GrassMaster Pro drymatter instrument for pasture and forages, and the AgPlanet Agribusiness database website we're developing with a team of software engineers. AgPlanet is designed to allow a low-cost and powerful advertising and information portal for all of New Zealand's agribusiness sector. It will encourage stronger and quicker linkages with new technology and services. A part of the site will be running at Fieldays.

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    A new application for the Batt-Latch pehaps: some farmers feed palm kernal and other supplements at the exit of the dairy platform. This works well for herringbone sheds, you allow one side at a time to access the feed troughs, and then before letting the next side out you move those cows off down the race and shut a gate behind them. It's a bit labour intensive though. A farmer in Aussie is thinking about using our short-distance remote controlled Batt-Latch to handle the opening of the gateway to the race, which saves about a third of the work. The short-range upgrade to the latest timers is $300 + GST, and hand-held remote will give you about 200mtrs range. We have an idea or two for moving the cows along without having to get out of the pit, but closing the spring gate again after the cows have gone, that's a bit harder.

    In 1995 we used a Batt-Latch circuit board with modified code to run a boom gate at Fieldays. The aluminium boom was powered with a car door power window mechanism. If we had a go at that now, we'd probably use an Elsema gate control PCB, and a bigger motor gearbox. But this would be a lot cheaper than the only other system we've heard about for this type of job, the $25,000 E-Feeder.

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    As mentioned, there have been a few customers using the Batt-Latch timer for free-range hens and chickens. Normally they are let out during the day, and by feeding them inside at night, the birds can be locked in safely. We assume the timer is holding the gate flap open, and at dusk it releases the flap on the coop or chicken shed, which clicks shut, securing the birds automatically.

    We have figured out this year that we can easily modify the timer so it moves 180 degrees on each timer action or event. It's just a small step from there to lock and unlock a gate. Here are some ideas.

    The mockup gate is a metal frame we use at Fieldays for demos. We've added a small welded latch receptacle, used the Batt-Latch adapter frame for wooden or pipe gates, and slightly modifed the timer inside to have two lugs on the optical sensor arm.

    Each time the timer triggers for an event, the cam rotates 180 degrees instead of 360. As long as the gate is resting against its stop point each time the timer activates, the gate will be unlocked or locked alternately. Note we simply used a vertical gate spring as fitted to many small gates worldwide, to hold the gate in the closed position.

    All the forces are on the solid steel latch, not the timer. The solar panel would need to be left uncovered and facing roughly in the midday sun direction if possible. We could also supply another solar panel in parallel, mounted on a bracket.

    The price might be NZ$395 for the slightly modified timer kit, $80 for the bracket and standard fittings, $50 for a spare solar panel if needed, and the latch and gate spring would probably be the customer's problem, as all gates are different.
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    I was speaking with a dairy farmer yesterday, who uses all four settable release times on the Batt-Latch. He's releasing and holding back the herd for both morning and evening milking. Many farmers report they'll load the feedpad for both milkings to ensure the cows come at their own pace, and on their own time.

    A four-release cycle starts with the cows being automatically released out of a paddock or part-paddock for morning milking, they're lured by the promise of the feedpad or in-shed feeder. Either the timer is moved to the next paddock's gateway or reinstalled, with the back half of a paddock opened up, while the cows are being milked. The first few cows find the new paddock and wait at the gateway for the rest of the herd to join up. Near the end of milking, all cows are let into the paddock by the Batt-Latch, and the farmer then reinstates the timer to hold them in, until the afternoon release.

    This operation might be more common than I thought, but most farmers hold the cows back in the race close to the shed, if they are utilising 'holding back' as a way of evening out nutrition. But it means two timers have to be used for each herd, or a dedicated timer is kept in the raceway. I'd guess the travel distance is a little shorter with the second method. But checking that all the herd made it out of the paddock for milking is often a good idea too.

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    Batt-Latch servicing and spare parts:

    We have about one staff member on average (1 FTE) dedicated to servicing Batt-Latch timer units from NZ and abroad. Other staff are involved in manufacturing and procurement as required. We think it's a good time to give some clear guidelines on our generous servicing and warranty policy.

    Every Batt-Latch made since 1995 has a serial number on it, and we have manual records on any service history for each one. While we know the date of manufacture, we don't always know the date of purchase, so we'll often extend the 12 month full warranty period by a few months. Until the timer unit is at least 2-3 years old and has been well used, we'll also go easy on any repair costs.

    Those well familiar with the Batt-Latch know that earlier units were moulded in red. In 2009 we moved to various specialist engineering plastics, always in a blue colour. The latest blue plastic has proved the most successful yet, it's very strong and the case holds its shape well. These cases have been available since April 2012.

    The new cases always come with the latest overlay and keypad, a new type gasket, a new solar panel. They make a very good upgrade to older timers that might come in, and when that case is fitted, we'll restart a 6 month warranty.

    If an older timer comes in for repair (a red or an earlier blue case), we'll be looking to move to the new case, as long as we can repair and swap the Batt-Latch circuit board into it within a reasonable time. We might need to change one or more other parts: the battery pack, the gearbox or parts of it, the LCD module. Since a new Batt-Latch unit with all fittings is about NZ$400 (+GST), we limit any repair cost to a maximum of $150.

    If you urgently need the use of a gate timer, and the delay with couriers is going to be a problem, we have a limited number of older loaner Batt-Latch units that we can despatch to your address the day you call. Please just remember to send them back once everything is sorted. If you are tempted to buy an additional Batt-Latch in this situation, we'll help that idea along, and most likely will repair your old one for free.

    If we don't think you've had a great run with the timer perhaps since the last repair, or since purchase, we'll write off labour or parts so that there is a smaller cost, or none at all. The customer always has to pay the cost of getting the timer to our workshop, but we will pay the cost to return it. This applies also to overseas customers, and in view of our interest in exporting the timers, any costs will be minimal in general.

    If an older timer has been left too long with water inside, so it has multiple faults, we will reluctantly write it off (rare), but we'll discuss a great deal for you on a new timer with 12 month warranty.

    Other parts: we always have spares of the fittings. The export length springs are in stock (not often on retailers shelves) and these reduce the strain on the timer's gearbox. Any broken straps are covered by warranty, enquire with us or through your retailer. We'll courier a new strap the same day.

    Thanks again to all the enthusiastic users of the Batt-Latch, for your custom and for the positive feedback.

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    There has been increasing interest around the world on the idea of mob grazing, also known as cell grazing. This is an intensive technique of paddock grazing where the pasture or forage is allowed to reach a more mature stage, and then by using electric fences, small parts (or cells) are allocated to a group of animals for a short time, until it is eaten out.

    The result is that animals are less selective about forage eaten, so that some weeds are reduced, and the pasture is well topped and trampled. The soil biology increases because of this, and in turn the plant roots grow deeper over time. Each year, farmers using the technique get some improvement, to the point where some drystock farmers are doing twice or three times the production.

    Our agent in Canada, Neil Dennis, uses Batt-Latch timers in his system, and as far as we know, was a pioneer of the idea. The timers allow several cells to be offered consecutively. Another use for mob grazing is to split up unruly animals like bulls into smaller groups. If there are under about 20 bulls in a group, they can remember each other, and so any fighting and tearing up of fences is greatly reduced.

    More about Neil Dennis, a trip to the UK in 2012.


    Also see www.mobgraze.com and data on the Technograze system from NZ.

    TechnoGrazing paper, approx 2002.

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    Novel Ways will not be exhibiting at NZ National Fieldays in 2013. We have a few projects to complete for next year, and are busy working for other industrial clients as well. The Batt-Latch gate timers are normally our main sales earner at Fieldays, and that product is where a lot of our design effort for agricultural products has produced results, over the years since 1994.

    Technipharm International will hold continuous stocks of Batt-Latch timer kits at Fieldays 2013. Like last year, they will have exhibits either side of the road on the main bottom carpark entry to National Fieldays (on the flat).

    The current manufactured timers are the most robust ones ever, with a new case modification that should keep them working in the worst conditions. Our 12 month (plus) warranty still stands, and we are always happy to repair any of our timers if needed, or to supply external parts.

    We promise a great lineup of new and improved farming equipment at Fieldays next year.

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    Grazetech (our principal reseller and technical support partner in Australia) have kindly produced a short video of the Batt-Latch release action, showing how to energize the gateway if needed.

    Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9S9I...ature=youtu.be

    Here in NZ, the gate doesn't often have to be energized for many days of the year with dairy herds, but the story might be a bit different with drystock. We are fairly certain that stock work out that the timer is going to let them into better feed conditions in good time. This appears to reduce the stress that they feel when closed up in a space with limited feed available, as is usually the case. The weight gain and behaviour of at least some drystock improves markedly when compared with no timer being in use, and normal practices are used instead. This has not been scientifically tested, but some drystock farmers we have spoken to, are convinced that the payback period for the timer makes it a 'no-brainer'. They will usually buy several units.

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    Putting a real value on the Batt-Latch Timer:

    Most of the timers we sell are used to release a dairy herd to the platform. There may be two herds, two timers in use. But for the sake of finding what the value of a timer could be to a dairy farming operation, let's look at the situation of an average herd of 400 cows, milked 450 times a year, with an average time to open the gate and walk the cows to the platform of 45 minutes. Farm workers (or the farm owner) save about 340 hours a year of labour using the Batt-Latch, time which can be spent productively on other tasks during the week, and valued at say $30 an hour. We have not allowed for the extra benefits of staff retention and staff goodwill.

    If on that farm, each cow has about a 10% chance of becoming lame during the year (below normal figures),and the average cost for each event is $300 (this is on the light side) then we can start to supply the cost savings. I have just read a Masters thesis in veterinary science completed in 2012. Over the North and South Islands, some dairy farms were surveyed. On average the farmers thought they had 2% of the herd lame, when in fact the correct average was 8%, at that instant in time.

    Farmer feedback and the results of lameness trials shows that about 70% of lameness is caused by poor stockhandling in races, on average. Cows that are not pushed in races tend to look after their hooves better. This helps in their general production figures, higher conception rates, lower vet bills, less discarded milk and risk of vat tainting with antibiotics, quicker milkings.

    So assuming that nearly all of the time taken to bring in the cows is now saved by the timer, and 70% of the lameness disappears (it may be higher than this), there are some simple calculations on a spreadsheet which can provide the annual cost benefits for one Batt-Latch timer, which should last for 5 years before needing to be replaced.

    The staggering result is that one Batt-Latch timer should save an average farm operation close to $92,000 over a five year period. There are few farming tools costing under $500 that could possibly produce such terrific benefits.

    As an afterthought, the Batt-Latch timer saves even more staff time when a feedpad is used. There are still some farmers who bring the herd up to the feedpad at 3.30am or so, and then they have to go back home or wait for 45mins or so until the cows have eaten enough, before milking. There are other unique uses for the timer, including holding back after milking, short rotation on feed crops, break feeding in winter, and stock movements on runoffs. Even scaring birds out of sheds during nesting time.

    This sort of mini-report on tools and equipment is what I would like to see coming from DairyNZ (remember that is the outfit dairy farmers pay levies to, in a bid to improve productivity on dairy farms). Have a look at their website, you won't see much about our gate timer at all. I have asked that the reference here also mentions the brand at least, but that is obviously not possible. The other mention relates to the SMASH annual conferences for smaller dairy farmers in NZ. Three of our donated timer kits are given away in a draw of registrations, a very popular incentive. Again, it is dairy farmers who are saying how great the Batt-Latch product is.

    This brochure from DairyNZ spells out the costs involved in the Healthy Hoof Programme. It looks like you could buy about four Batt-Latch gate timers for the initial costs of the training course. While I'm not saying that using Batt-Latch gate timers will solve all the lameness problems on a dairy farm, surely this product deserves some kind of a mention in the official articles on dairy herd lameness in NZ. It's too cheap, too easy, but maybe it would chop out a lot of research grants and opportunities to sell advice to farmers.
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