Ontario student wins national innovation contest

Charlene in the barn with cows - web

Charlene Elliott, winner of the nation-wide 4-H science competition

A Wellington County high school student has won a nation-wide science competition sponsored by 4-H Canada.

Charlene Elliott, a Grade 11 student at Eastwood Collegiate in Kitchener, placed first with her freestall dairy barn scraper concept, which she has dubbed “Lugano 100”.

Scrapers currently used in freestall dairy barns – where cows can move about freely instead of being in individual stalls – will clean manure out of the alleyways, but don’t touch the bedded areas where cows lie down.

Washing and re-bedding resting areas for dairy cows is time consuming work, so Elliott set about devising a system that would automate that process.

She envisions the Lugano 100 as using a scraper similar to a ceiling fan blade that would be angled so it can push sand from the bedding area into the regular alley to be moved out of the barn by the alley scraper.

“Automating this process would cut down on the amount of time farmers need to spend washing and re-bedding,” she explains, adding that her concept would be used as an add-on to existing scraper systems.

Charlene in front of the barn - web

Charlene has been an active 4-H member for several years.

She also sees it having a positive impact on Somatic Cell Counts, which are an indicator of milk quality. High count levels signal the presence of bacteria like those that cause mastitis, an infection of the udder.

“If we make it easier to keep bedding clean, it could also help decrease Somatic Cell Count levels in freestall barns,” she says.

“I love science and being able to invent things related to agriculture,” she adds. “I would like to see the world of agriculture evolve and develop so that everyday chores are made easier for the farmer.”

Elliott’s father farms in the Kenilworth area of Wellington County, where he has a 90 cow dairy herd. That’s where she spends her summers and many of her weekends during the school year – it’s also where she first joined 4-H a number of years ago, and how she became aware of the national science competition.

“I’m always looking for opportunities in 4-H. I like science and math, and this competition is a good way to learn about science by applying agricultural knowledge,” she says.

To enter the competition, participants had to send in a submission based on the question, “If you could invent something that would change the world of agriculture, what would it be?”. The online application process included submitting a blueprint of the idea along with detailed explanations of what it does and how it would help the agricultural sector.

Although Charlene drew up her plans in an editing program, the competition didn’t require her to build a life-size prototype. It would be nice to see it put into a barn, she says, and although it’s something she’s talked about with her dad, it’s not something currently in the cards.

Her dream is to be a large animal vet working with dairy cattle and horses, so her focus is on graduating from high school and then attending the University of Guelph to study animal biology before applying to veterinary college.

She’s also fairly involved on the farm with everything from milking, doing books, and registering calves, to attending dairy evaluation clinics, participating in inter-county dairy judging and being a member of the Brown Swiss Association.

Farm from the road - web

Charlene is actively involved in the family dairy farm near Kenilworth, Ontario.

At school, too, she maintains an active schedule, playing rugby and field hockey, running the school newspaper, participating in student council and Relay for Life, and serving as a Grade 9 mentor.

This was the first year of the contest, designed by 4-H Canada to introduce its members to science, and next year the focus will shift towards a science fair-type event. Membership in 4-H, a youth organization, is open to young people ages 9-21.