Tech-savvy beef cattle? How heifers respond to moving virtual fence lines

Campbell, D.L., Lea, J.M., Farrer, W.J., Haynes, S.J. and Lee, C. - Animals

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Farm Table says:

Another great paper highlighting the practical benefit of a new, up and coming technology for beef farmers.

What is the problem?

Effective management of grazing livestock is a challenge for producers due to large land areas and limited contact with animals. Advances in automated technology have led to the development of virtual fencing, which could provide a solution with potential reductions in physical fencing and labour costs. This study looked at how beef cows wearing responded to virtual fence lines.

What did the research involve?

This study made use of prototype virtual fencing collars. These collars use GPS technology to monitor animal movement/position/ speed, and pinpoint virtual fence lines, using set GPS coordinates. The collars, worn by the animal, emit an audio tone as the animal approaches the virtual fence line. If the animal walks further toward the virtual fence line, they receive an electrical stimulus; if the animal walks away from the fence following the audio cue, they receive no stimulus.

These collars were put onto six Angus cows in a 6.15-hectare paddock for 22 days.

The virtual fence lines were periodically shifted during the experiment to exclude the cows from different areas of the paddock, i.e. 40%, 60% and 80% of the paddock widthways and 50% lengthways, to measure how they responded to different virtual fence locations/audio cues.

What were the key findings?

  • The cattle learned of the 40% virtual fence within 48 hours.
  • The cattle stayed within all of the inclusion zones as a result of the audio cues emitted by the collars, thereby demonstrating that the cattle were responding to the audio cues and not the virtual fence locations.
  • Although there did not appear to be any clear negative impacts of the collars, future research looking at welfare measures on cattle wearing virtual fencing collars is needed.

Final comment

This study showed the potential of virtual fencing on farms and could be used to facilitate improvements in animal management and paddock utilisation on beef cattle farms.

2017 - Australia - Campbell, D.L., Lea, J.M., Farrer, W.J., Haynes, S.J. and Lee, C. - Animals
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