Vir­tual fence be­comes re­al­ity

Shepparton News - Country News - - NEWS - By Rod­ney Woods

Af­ter watch­ing a CSIRO video about vir­tual fenc­ing more than a decade ago, Goul­burn Bro­ken Catch­ment Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity’s Mark Turner has been closely fol­low­ing the devel­op­ment of the tech­nol­ogy.

As river health im­ple­men­ta­tion man­ager of the CMA, Mr Turner waited for some­thing to be put on the mar­ket but noth­ing hap­pened un­til the Goul­burn Bro­ken CMA and North East CMA were the driv­ing forces be­hind at­tract­ing fund­ing to con­duct a fea­si­bil­ity study.

‘‘I saw it (the video) years ago and noth­ing hap­pened. Through a Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment grant of $75 mil­lion and ex­tra money from the state gov­ern­ment (Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment), we pro­duced a fea­si­bil­ity study to see if there was a mar­ket for it — and there was,’’ he said.

The tech­nol­ogy, named eShep­herd, has been cre­ated by start-up com­pany Agersens and al­lows the farmer to cre­ate fence bound­aries via a smart phone or com­puter and the sys­tem uses Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem (GPS) wire­less tech­nol­ogy to con­trol the lo­ca­tion of cat­tle.

‘‘A GPS and so­lar panel is lo­cated on a cow col­lar. The col­lar can hold in­for­ma­tion even if reception is down. It only needs reception for chang­ing (fence) lines,’’ Mr Turner said.

‘‘The Goul­burn Bro­ken CMA was among the ear­li­est in­vestors in the eShep­herd tech­nol­ogy and that’s be­cause we really be­lieved it could be a use­ful tool in our work to pro­tect rivers and ri­par­ian ar­eas.

‘‘We know that stock causes sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to wa­ter­ways and tra­di­tional fenc­ing isn’t al­ways the an­swer be­cause it’s vul­ner­a­ble to fire and flood. We need to con­trol stock ac­cess to rivers and if we can do that with­out ex­pen­sive fenc­ing then that’s a win for farm­ers and a win for the en­vi­ron­ment,’’ he said.

More re­cently, Mr Turner said the first on-farm trial, af­ter sev­eral tri­als at CSIRO Ar­mi­dale (NSW), was held in Tum­barumba, in south­ern NSW.

This in­volved a herd of cat­tle which had full ac­cess to a river and its ri­par­ian zone.

Within a few hours of the sys­tem be­ing turned on, the cat­tle learned to recog­nise the pres­ence of the vir­tual fence and moved away from it.

The sys­tem in­volves the cat­tle be­ing fit­ted with col­lars which de­liver sounds and then a small elec­tric stim­u­lus if the cat­tle con­tinue to move closer to the vir­tual fence line.

Agersens an­i­mal wel­fare sci­en­tist Sally Haynes said the trial re­sults were en­cour­ag­ing, with the cat­tle spend­ing 99.7 per cent of the time in­side the in­clu­sion zone once the fence was turned on.

Agersens’s eShep­herd prod­uct is ex­pected to be com­mer­cially avail­able in early 2018.

Con­stant data . . . The so­lar-pan­elled col­lar holds all the vir­tual in­for­ma­tion even if reception cuts out.

High-tech . . . A close-up of the col­lar.

Fenced in . . . A cou­ple of the cows wear­ing the col­lar at the Tum­barumba farm.

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