Programming rather than riding fences

May 20, 2011
by WLJ
Programming rather than riding fences

Our world of electronic conveniences has now reached the cow pasture. In the not-so-distant future, landscapes may be dotted only with virtual fences and cattle may be herded with global positioning system (GPS) technology.

The May issue of Rangeland Ecology & Management brings this future closer through a study that employed GPS and automated animal control (AAC) systems as an alternative to physical fences.

The study, conducted in Queensland, Australia, tested the effectiveness of virtual fencing on four groups of Brahman steers. Each steer was fitted with a collar containing a GPS receiver, a sensory stimulus device that created a buzzing sound and another stimulus device that produced a one-second electrical pulse.

Each group of cattle was placed in a paddock that featured a supplemental feeder at one end. At first, the animals were given unlimited access to the entire enclosure. Then a restricted zone around the desirable food source was delimited and discontinuous AAC was applied to control the cattle’s behavior.

Overall, the study showed a 97 percent reduction in the use of the restricted zone by the cattle. This finding provides evidence that use of AAC is sufficient to modify the behavior of cattle. — WLJ