Launching a spin-out, walking the talk and innovating to improve animal welfare.


Lamb tail docking and castration is a sore subject for animal welfare groups and ethical consumers, but are often necessary husbandry procedures. Traditionally pliers are used to apply a rubber ring around the appendage, often without any pain relief. Obviously distressing for the lambs, this method has remained the same for over 60 years despite the demand from consumers and supply chains for change.

An initial study carried out in the 90s identified that a precise dosage of local anaesthetic around key nerves would dramatically speed up a lamb’s recovery following the procedure. However, a commercially viable solution had not been realised.

4c was introduced to the challenge in 2010. Excited about what we could do, we carried out a feasibility study to explore the market and uncover  consumer trends for meat and wool produce. We spotted an opportunity and so took this project on as a venture. Utilising our own processes and capabilities we started on a journey that led to 4c creating a new approach, product, system and business of our own. In 2019, Numnuts® was launched.

The early stages

To create a best-in-class product we worked with Moredun Research Institute (MRI) in Scotland, and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), CSIRO and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) in Australia. We carried out several Innovation Sprints with farmers, vets, anaesthetists and needle experts, along with scientific and engineering bodies, to help guide ideas within short periods of time between lambing seasons. This early engagement, carried out during numerous clinical trials, allowed for a clear focus on the science enabling us to fully understand dosage and location of anaesthetic.

“We can’t obliterate pain for humans yet and we certainly can’t obliterate it for animals, but we can make a difference to the level of pain experienced.”

Dr Alison Small, BVMS

Then, through several rounds of progressive prototyping, the most promising of these solutions emerged. These were tested in-house on dummy lamb test rigs, which enabled us to perform year-round testing outside of the lambing season. They were also trialled on lambs in both Scotland and Australia, in conjunction with the support of MRI and CSIRO, to define usability and ergonomics.

This fed the design brief providing specific directions to explore for the injection mechanism and for local anaesthetic packaging. We worked with farmers to challenge supply chains and direct the design choices around fluid handling and dispensing of local anaesthetic.

Further development

Key to the success of the final product was having our mechanical engineers on-site in commercial farming environments during product testing and trials, which took place both in Scotland and Australia. By being involved first-hand in the treatment of over 15,000 lambs, our engineers were able to get into the mindset of the user and gain invaluable insight into the usability of the system, both from the operator’s perspective as well as that of the animal.

This project saw us develop 15 different versions of the prototype as we progressed methodically through Technology Development Levels (TRLs), with each prototype undergoing successive rounds of rigorous product testing, user feedback, refinement and ergonomic improvements. This confirmed 3 key pieces of intellectual property:

A multi-stage injection mechanism to control location of needle and dosage.

An anti-tamper, quick to change packaging solution for the anaesthetic.

An applicator which combines both and can be used by all skill levels.


Eight years in development, Numnuts® is a journey that began from an initial call for innovation in the meat and wool industries following demand from consumers and supply chains. Using a novel injection mechanism and packaging of a local anaesthetic, Numnuts® de-skills the administering of this local anaesthetic by providing pain relief to the nerves that are worst affected by the procedure during that first hour.

Science backed the process, as efficacy trials carried out by MRI and CSIRO demonstrated that our hard work of iterative development had a significant effect on the welfare of the lambs during the process.

Capabilities Utilised

This project utilised every 4c capability, and only some of these are listed below:

  • User centred design
  • Concept development
  • Ethnographic research
  • Stakeholder development
  • Design engineering
  • Industrial design
  • Concept testing
  • Field trials
  • Service design
  • Manufacturing review and liaison
  • Business development
  • Assembly development and testing
learn about our other capabilities

Launching in Australia mid-2019 through our new spin-out company, the volume sold increased by a factor of five in 2020, where over two million Australian lambs benefited from the Numnuts® treatment. Now well established as a mainstream means of alleviating pain during the necessary animal husbandry process of lamb marking, Numnuts® has been very well received by key stakeholders. This ranges from anaesthetic manufacturers that are benefitting from a new product line, through to farmers themselves who have been able to increase their margins by adopting ethical welfare practices.

Our development of Numnuts® has put it at the forefront of the farming industry as a gold standard in responsible farming, winning several industry awards. Our design decisions and IP increased the perceived value of the local anaesthetic and raised the RRP of the technology to make Numnuts commercially viable for all parties.

During the course of this eight-year journey, we have gained valuable experience in new technologies, manufacturing techniques, production, distribution, marketing and sales. We have built new close relationships with end-users, created a separate company, managed production in Europe, built a network of vets and farmers, brokered supplies of local anaesthetic and worked with stakeholders and investors located around the world.

We continue to support Numnuts® as it scales into New Zealand during 2021. With help from the likes of Tesco we will also see it introduced into the UK market in 2022.