MLA seeking investor to commercialise NumNuts animal welfare aid + VIDEO

Terry Sim, 01/12/2015

Numnuts applicatorAUSTRALIA’S new pain relief technology for the castration of lambs and calves – Numnuts – needs a commercial partner to help fund its $1 million commercialisation price tag.

The new Numnuts technology will be ready for on-farm use in 18-24 months and industry funding is available for commercialisation.

MLA is now seeking a joint venture partner to commercialise the product.

NumNuts was developed by Meat & Livestock Australia and Scottish engineering firm 4cDesign.

It incorporates a single action hand-held ring activator and injection mechanism to administer a local anaesthetic – lignocaine, as used by the dental industry – to quickly and effectively reduce pain.

It is hoped Numnuts will cost around 20c per treatment for lambs aged two to 12 weeks – the recommended age for marking lambs under the new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines.

The development of Numnuts also had contributions from Australian Wool Innovation, the Moredun Research Institute in Scotland and CSIRO, and is currently in the commercialisation process.

Proof-of-concept trials for a cattle castration version of Numnuts and Minimum Residue Level research for lignocaine are also underway. The current Numnut applicator for sheep can cope with a ring for a three-month-old calf, but no cost estimate is available for calves.

Jim Rothwell MLA

Jim Rothwell

However, MLA Program Manager, Animal Health, Welfare and Biosecurity, Dr Jim Rothwell, said MLA was still looking for an investor to scale up commercialisation and manufacturing.

He said there had been some interest from potential investors but none had been signed.

“We’re not talking a lot of money and we can double the money through the MLA Donor Company.

“We need an investor who genuinely has an interest in this welfare space to come on board.”

MLA is looking for an investor willing to part-fund an estimated commercialisation cost of $1million and sign a standard licensing agreement with royalties on international sales.

“We think to get this thing through to the marketplace and ready to use it is going to cost less than $1million and we can match half of that with the MLA Donor Company.”

“We are not talking about a lot of money.”

Market assurance benefits

Dr Rothwell said there will be market quality assurance advantages for sheep and cattle producers using Numnuts in the medium term, helping them to meet future export requirements.

“I have no doubt they will… the new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for sheep are coming.

“They call for the use of husbandry pain relief for surgical practices on animals more than six months old and they recommend their use if they are available in general,” he said.

“We are also in a competitive environment with other livestock product countries, so having tools available to improve the welfare standards of Australian livestock is going to beneficial in the long term.”

He said the Numnuts technology will allow farmers to potentially get price premiums by meeting market animal welfare quality assurance expectations. The sheep welfare guidelines state that pain relief is desirable, if practical and cost effective for lambs at marking, and it is required for animals over six months of age.

Numnuts for lamb tail-docking

Dr Rothwell said Numnuts will also give producers options for the tail-docking of lambs, superior to the use of a hot knife.

“It is extremely effective on tail docking; the pain relief is almost immediate.

“It is effective on testicles as well, though the onset of pain relief is slower than for tails.”

Dr Rothwell said calves and lambs treated with Numnuts were likely to be less stressed and would mother up more quickly.

Proof-of-concept trials have shown serious reductions in pain behaviour such as ‘tucked up’ posture, bleating and lying down when lambs are treated using the Numnuts tool. The anaesthetic acts within 30-60 seconds of injection and remains active for about four hours by which time the tissue in the testes and tail is dead, eliminating residual pain.

Dr Rothwell said the NumNuts applicator is simple and effective, and easily used by producers to achieve excellent gains in animal husbandry.

“Our research has demonstrated the ability of this tool to very rapidly reduce pain throughout husbandry processes that are important to both production and broader animal safety.

“The NumNuts tool will allow producers to administer effective pain relief in a safe, controlled and fast-acting manner without the need for a veterinarian to be present, making it a practical and economically viable option for on-farm use,” he said.

“We know happy animals are productive animals and this new technology shows the proactivity and willingness across the sector to continually seek to innovate in the area of animal welfare and to embrace best practice.”

Minimum Residue Limit research is ongoing

General Manager of On-Farm Innovation and Adoption Dr Matt McDonagh said Numnuts is a great example of levy payer funds being invested in research and development to deliver a practical on farm tool for sheep producers and proof-of-concept trials are now underway for a cattle castration version of NumNuts. MLA is also funding research to set the minimum residue levels of lignocaine, which will determine any meat withholding period, he said.

Dr Rothwell said the Numnuts research on calves is being undertaken on three-month-old dairy bulls in Scotland and behavioural videos and assessments are being analysed now.

“The single midline injection is effective in bull calves; it will be animals less than six months of age.”

Live calf testing will also undertaken in Australia

Dr Rothwell said the live phase of the cattle proof-of-concept trials has been completed and data is being analysed to help determine MRLs and meat withholding periods. There has also been some “good involvement” with the APVMA.


  • Click here to view a short Twitter video demonstrating the use of the Numnuts applicator.



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  1. Paul Wood, 02/12/2015

    It is good to see this project moving ahead into the commercialization phase. Ian has done a nice job of describing the early basic research to define the problem, MLA has brought forward a practical device and what is now required is a manufacturer and marketer of the product. This project addresses issues around the Social License to farm as consumers are uncomfortable with procedures such as castration that result in pain in animals. Congratulations to MLA for its efforts on behalf of the red meat industry.

  2. Ian Colditz, 02/12/2015

    Hi Jay,

    I worked with Carol Petherick on the study you refer to and have worked on a large number of other studies with MLA and AWI on castration in lambs and calves. A consistent conclusion from our studies when comparing castration methods is that no method (knife v ring) is demonstrably better for all situations when all components of the animal’s response are considered. We also conclude that provision of pain relief is desirable. To date, we have not found evidence that would lead us to advocate a single castration method as the preferred practice for industry to adopt.
    For an individual operator, the best welfare outcome for their animals will be influenced by their own skill with alternative castration procedures, the type of sheep or cattle they run, age, infrastructure on their property, climate, and so on. For instance, the MLA study by Petherick et al was conducted on tropical adapted cattle in a tropical environment in summer. In this environment in summer, inflammatory reactions to ring castration might be greater than in Bos taurus cattle run in a temperate climate due to effects of humidity on skin bacterial flora, tick challenge, and buffalo fly activity in the tropical environment all contributing to greater skin irritation and infection at the site of ring application over the weeks following marking. These factors have not been investigated. Thus the impact of ring castration on calves could differ between environments. The reported noted this caveat in its conclusions.
    The new Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for sheep and cattle will permit castration by knife or ring. It is appropriate therefore to develop pain relief methods to improve the welfare of animals castrated by either method. To date the Numnuts tool has been developed for use in lambs for tail docking and castration with rings, while on-going research is addressing its use for ring castration in calves. While much of the research that showed local anaesthetics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs could reduce pain associated with marking in sheep and cattle was done over a decade ago, practical methods have not been available for farmers to use these drugs in their animals at marking. A number of MLA and AWI projects in recent years have therefore focused on developing practical methods to enable farmers to use these drugs. The commercialisation of practical methods for provision of pain relief for castration in sheep and cattle will place Australia at the forefront of global best practice for the conduct of these procedures by farmers. As a consequence, the Numnuts tool should have a large international market, as other countries adopt the standards that Australia will be setting for provision of pain relief by livestock producers when they castrate sheep and cattle.

  3. Jay, 01/12/2015

    I’m very interested to hear how MLA can be pushing forward with such an agenda when research says otherwise. MLA have stated that the pain relief of NumNuts lasts for 3 to 4 hrs (twitter 30th of October 2015) and yet in an MLA published paper prepared by J. Carol Petherick project code B.AWW.0008 it quite clearly states that ‘pain and stress increased significantly in ring castration to peak at 2 weeks post castration before declining at 3 weeks post castration”, compared to surgical castration which showed declining levels of pain and stress over the same period.

    So why is money and research being put into a pain relief system and encouraging a castration method that doesn’t address the pain problem that research has identified?

    Polite reminder that full names are required for reader comments on Beef Central, please Jay, as per our comments policy:
    Beef Central has been gently reminding comment providers of this requirement for some months now. At some point, comments not meeting these requirements will simply not be published. Editor

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