By Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Woolover Limited
Company creates products designed to help newborn animals thrive in frigid conditions.
Amid devastating loss, a new solution emerged to fulfill a potential need in the livestock industry. After historic snowstorms in New Zealand, shepherd and entrepreneur, David Brown, set out to develop a product focused on minimizing fatality rates in lambs and calves during freezing conditions. “Woolover Limited was born of necessity following two snowstorms, 10 days apart, in August 1992, that claimed the lives of over two million newborn lambs and 40,000 calves in New Zealand,” David Brown, Woolover Limited founder, said.
The impact on farmers reverberated throughout New Zealand following the catastrophic snowstorms. “This huge reproductive waste caused some sheep farmers to exit the industry and caused the meat industry real grief with lower stock numbers. I personally had previously been running 3,500 ewes and had experienced losing substantial numbers of newborn lambs due to southerly storms that sweep into the eastern province of Canterbury, New Zealand,” David said.
Heartbroken by the loss of livestock throughout the region, David decided to search for a way to protect newborn animals from extreme cold conditions. His solution entailed creating covers for newborn animals made of wool and designed in the shape of a jacket to protect the animal’s heart and lungs.
Woolover Limited launched its first product line consisting of lamb jackets made from wool in 1993. “We actually sold 50,000 Woolover lamb covers in the first eight weeks, so the need was there,” David stated. Through the years the company has added new products to meet the needs of livestock producers. Woolover Limited currently manufacturers lamb and calf jackets as well as covers for larger livestock in Christchurch, New Zealand and exports the products to more than 15 countries, including the United States.
David’s idea for the design of the original lamb cover involved creating a product that would protect the animal’s heart and lungs while also being readily accepted by the ewe. He took his design plan to a senior scientist at locally based, Wool Research, to get advice on how to make a product that would stretch and grow with the lamb the first three weeks of its life. If the lamb could make it past the three-week mark, it had a much better chance of thriving no matter the weather conditions.
The solution involved using wool for the jackets and needle punching the wool into a structure. Wool serves as a good material source for the product because it generates and retains heat even when it is wet. The natural wool fibers breathe allowing the animals wearing the jacket covers to be warm without sweating.
According to Woolover Limited, wool takes on one-third of its weight in water drawing water away from the hide of the animal keeping the animal warm and dry. The wool jackets easily dry out and can be washed and reused.
Tested in the U.S.
After launching the jackets for lambs, the company expanded its products to include calf covers. Much like the design for the lambs, the calf jackets are manufactured using wool and created to keep a calf’s body warm including the area surrounding its heart and lungs. Producers who use the calf jackets state their calves have a better rate of gain because the calves are not using energy to stay warm.
Shortly after Woolover Limited started producing the animal covers, World Wide Sires located in California, reached out to the company to inquire about conducting a clinical trial with the use of the jackets on dairy calves. The trial was conducted at North Dakota State University in Fargo, N.D., with 120 dairy calves. Half of the calves received the Woolover jackets at birth and the other half did not. “All calves were weighed upon entering the trial and the high and low temperatures recorded daily, plus wind speed and humidity,” David explained. “After 60 days the result was the Woolover covered calves weighed on average 16 pounds heavier liveweight versus those uncovered calves.”
A year after the initial study, another trial was conducted resulting in findings similar to the first clinical trial. Through the years, the company has worked with producers to make improvements to the lamb and calf jackets.
Due to the success of the original products, Woolover Limited expanded its offerings. The company now manufacturers covers for larger animals and calf covers with waterproof outer shells. Additionally, Woolover fabricates a product called Fit N Forget™ Beef Calf Cover. The product is designed to fit calves at birth. The jackets are manufactured from wool that is needle punched to a hessian substrate making it completely biodegradable. In three to four weeks the jackets fall off and then biodegrade.
Though the impetus behind the creation of the animal jackets and covers stems from a solemn situation, the new products developed from that time have been making a positive impact on animals and producers for the decades that followed.