Virtual fences to be trialled in bull beef business

Virtual fences are being used in cattle operations in many parts of the world, particularly in extensive grasslands in the US and Australia.
Monday, 21 October 2019

Waikato farmer Neil Aicken is exploring the use of virtual fences on his 514ha intensive bull beef operation assessing them for functionality, profitability, productivity and sustainability.

Neil winters 1250 R2 bulls annually in a combination of conveyor and cell grazing systems with a total of 1400 “paddocks.” He believes if successful, virtual fences could reduce labour costs associated with stock movements in intensive cattle operations.

Through the Innovation Farm programme, he is looking to trial and demonstrate an E-Shepherd virtual fencing system in conjunction with existing electric fences. The virtual fences will be used as “temporary” fences.

The project will look to trial 75 bulls in the conveyor system and if successful, it will be extended to 75 bulls in the cells.

For virtual fences to work, cattle are fitted with collars which deliver a noise followed by an electric stimulus when they reach the pre-programmed boundary. According to Agersens, the company delivering the system, animals learn by the second or third association that they need to stop or turn aside when they hear the sound.

To trial the system, Neil had to seek- and was granted- approval from AgResearch’s Animal Ethics Committee.

Last year, he undertook a collar-fitting trial on six bulls and while they were easy to fit, they all came off- irrespective of being a tight or loose fitting. The upside was none of the collars broke. The collars have since been redesigned to ensure a secure fit.

The collars work through satellite transmission and the base stations have to be set up within line of sight of the cattle. The project team are hoping these will be set up within the next year. They will then start using the virtual fences in the conveyor system.

Bulls in the trial will have a general health check before being fitting with collars and will be monitored daily once the virtual fencing system is activated. Any animals showing signs of stress will be removed from the trial.

Neil admits there have been frustrations in getting the trial up and running but he accepts that this is the nature of dealing with emerging technologies where the product is continually evolving. He hopes to make significant progress over the next 12 months.