By Jennifer Foreshaw
Victorian agtech startup MimicTec has developed a new prototype that takes it a step closer to transforming how chickens are farmed in Australia and the world.
MimicTec is currently testing its latest prototype on a Victorian farm, ahead of a planned commercial trial this year.
The startup, which was co-founded by Sarah Last and Eleanor Toulmin, is developing technology to improve growth in commercial chickens whilst also promoting animal welfare.
Reducing stress in the first weeks of life to lower mortality rates
MimicTec’s product, which has a patent pending, will be implemented on farms to decrease mortality rates and improve the feed conversion ratios for poultry production. The startup’s first trial with chickens was undertaken in October 2016 using 3D printed prototypes.
With the assistance of mechatronic engineers, Ms Last and Ms Toulmin have developed the latest prototype, which uses a “dark brooder’’ heater system, with an extension of features made out of epoxy resin and foam.
“What we are looking to do is develop a physical product to sell to farmers that they can implement on farms to reduce stress in chickens in the first five weeks of life,’’ said Melbourne-based Ms Last, who is MimicTec chief technology officer.
“Then by reducing stress you can lower mortality rates, you can improve the feed conversion ratios and see an improvement in the production metrics that are important to farmers. As an added side benefit, it has got a positive outcome for animal welfare.’’
Continuing to improve the product and its usability on farms
Ms Last, 23, and Ms Toulmin, 28, formed MimicTec while both were studying a Master of Entrepreneurship at the University of Melbourne’s Wade Institute.
Ms Toulmin, who is MimicTec chief executive officer, said it was possible to put together a retail product estimated at A$60, plus installation.
“If they are not using all of that stress to develop stress hormones such as cortisol or corticosteroids, then the little baby chicks can use more of that energy to put on weight more quickly,’’ Ms Toulmin said.
“We are targeting a three per cent feed conversion ratio improvement and given feed is up to 50 per cent of poultry farmers on-farm costs, a three per cent improvement in that could be huge and ongoing. We are also looking at a 10 per cent mortality rate improvement.’’
MimicTec is currently in discussion with a number of major poultry processors and farmers in Australia, along with other independent free range farms. They are using the input of farmers to continue to improve the product and its usability on farms.
According to the Australian Productivity Commission, farmers need to double the productivity of their farms every generation to remain profitable.
“Some people think that the agriculture industry is quite slow moving, but that is usually untrue because they are constantly looking for new ways to innovate and new ways to make that productivity gain so that they can remain viable in the long term,’’ Ms Toulmin said.
She said there were plans to have the first customer sales by the end of this year before moving internationally, most likely to the United States and Brazil, next year.
MimicTec, which is working out of the University of Melbourne’s startup accelerator Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) pre-accelerator, is looking for further funding of A$250,000 this year.