A tragic event triggered the idea for a new invention that could help farmers track wandering livestock.
It could also be the beginning of a business for Evan Dodrill, a junior at West Virginia University majoring in animal science.
It was still dark outside in the early morning of Oct. 9, 2013 when 21 cattle escaped from his family's 500-acre Greenbrier County farm. He was away at college when the livestock traveled about three miles beyond the boundaries of High Hill Farm in Asbury.
"Nineteen head were hit and killed by two tractor-trailers on Interstate 64," Dodrill said. "Two were caught on a neighbor's property."
While the drivers were not injured, one of vehicles was totaled and the other was heavily damaged, he said.
Dodrill started thinking about what could be done to prevent any such occurrence in the future.
The result was the invention of The Herdsman, a product that allows farmers to track livestock from remote locations and receive alerts if the animals go outside a set boundary.
Dodrill compares the device to a GPS. It would work through a mobile application on a smartphone or other device. A chip and small battery pack would be placed in an ear tag on the animal.
"Most farmers tag their cattle anyway," he said.
The plan is now in the development stage with a software company.
His invention recently won the inaugural Vanguard Agriculture Competition sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing. As winner, he will receive a business assistance package valued at more than $10,000. The package is to include product design and development, business incubator space, and other services. He received his award during a ceremony on Feb. 27 at the West Virginia Small Farm Conference at the Charleston Civic Center.
The West Virginia Vanguard Agriculture Competition honors innovation and ingenuity in agriculture, recognizing an entrepreneur whose idea had the greatest potential to solve logistical challenges in the local food supply chain.
The contest is part of RCBI's agricultural innovation initiative, an effort to improve opportunities for West Virginia's farming and agricultural economy. Funded by a grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the initiative supports a local foods system by promoting entrepreneurship and innovation. The competition is also supported by Unlimited Future, Inc. and The Wild Ramp.
While the recent win will boost Dodrill's efforts, he is also participating in other competitions to try to raise more funds and awareness for his endeavors for a business to be called Shady Ridge Enterprises.
"Agricultural technology is a huge untapped potential market," he said.
He has ideas for additional products but is not yet ready to reveal details.
The Herdsman would benefit numerous farmers, he said.
"I did a survey of over 50 farmers and the results showed 65 percent lose livestock due to leaving the farm and breaching boundaries," he said.
Dodrill is the sixth generation to work on the family farm.
"I go home every other weekend and work on the farm," he said. "I'm three hours away. I am always looking for new livestock and investments. I stay involved and up to date. The farm is now run by my Dad, my uncles, and their wives."
The farm now includes about 55 head of cattle, eight Boer goats, and three draft horses.
Dodrill, 20, is the son of Danny and Stella Dodrill and has one sister, 14-year-old Maddie.
He is excited to see what happens with his latest invention as well as technology to follow that will help farmers.