Alanna McCabe with her 'Young Innovator' award at the McCabe family farm in Mountnugent.

Teen's winning idea for crossing electric fences

Every farmer the world over has suffered a nasty jolt from touching an electric fence - but such accidents could be a thing of the past as a Mountnugent teenager has come up with a shockingly simple idea.

The cleverly named 'Fence Defence' was the brainchild of Alanna McCabe, for which she has scooped the 'Young Innovator' award held - online this year - as part of the National Ploughing Championship's Innovation Arena.

Organised by Enterprise Ireland, 14-year-old Alanna is the event's youngest category winner in its 10-year history. Her spark of inspiration came after an incident during Lockdown.

"I was out farming with my dad, and he was crossing a fence and tried to jump it," Alanna recalls laughing. "He fell over and was lucky he didn't hurt himself. I decided there should be an easier way to cross an electric fence and we came up with that idea."

That idea is the Fence Defence, a small hollow plastic item, which looks a quite like a bottle opener. A groove at one end enables the user to push down the electric wire without fear of a shock.

It can be attached to a keyring for handiness, and there is space on each side for logos, making it ideal for merchandise to promote agri businesses.

Alanna's father, Derek, has plenty of other tales of woe from trying to negotiate electric fences. His most recent jolt came from trying to crawl under it, but his back wasn't low enough - he reckons it left a red mark for a day or two.

Is there an Irish farmer alive that hasn't been shocked?

"Probably not," Derek replies. "And there's probably not a farmer in the country that doesn't have an electric fence.

"I was talking to a man in the west of Ireland yesterday - a big agri-contractor, and he said the last time he crossed a fence, he used his phone. And half way across," he says, already laughing at the thought, "it obviously slipped off it because you don't have the grip. Either you get the shock between the legs, or keel over, or both.

"The other use for the tool is that if a wire is on the ground," Derek chips in, "as a farmer you can actually pick the wire up and put it back on its post - without having to go back and turn off the fence."

The product is already generating a buzz as they have received their first order for 5,000 units.

"We used a piece of plastic Mechano set for our first prototype," explains Alanna. "Our second prototype was made out of a substance called Sugru - it's a Plasticine like substance and, when you mould it, it hardens into rubber. Our most recent prototype was 3-D printed. One of our neighbours has a 3-D printer, so he helped us out with that."

While they are still at the prototype stage, they will soon have the final version go into production, through an Irish company. An Irish patent for the Fence Defence is pending.

Alanna believes there's scope for simple add-ons to further enhance the Fence Defence. "You could put a device into it, so if you walk up to a fence it would test to see if it's on," she says.

Derek is understandably proud of his daughter.

"The Young Innovator category is for people up to 30 years of age. So not only is it a national competition, but to win it at her age was quite good."

Hopefully the Ploughing Championships get back in the groove next year, and the McCabes will have their final product ready.

"The power of the Ploughing Match is that it attracts up to 300,000 visitors a year - you have a captive market with them alone. While Alanna didn't get prize money for what she won, she gets her stand at the ploughing match next year, which is worth between €3,000-5,000."