When a fence is not a fence

Thursday 17 August, 2017
Goulburn Broken CMA River and Wetland Health Manager Mark Turner has been closely following the development of virtual fencing technology for more than a decade.

Mr Turner’s confidence in the science has since been vindicated after a successful trial beside a river, on a working cattle farm in NSW.

Virtual fencing is an animal-friendly system which controls the movement of livestock without the need for actual fences.

The farmer is able 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 the animals.

The trial at Tumbarumba, in Southern NSW, involved a herd of cattle which had full access to a river and its riparian zone. The trial was supported by Murray Local Land Services.

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 small electric pulses as the animal moves closer to the virtual fence.

Mr Turner said he was thrilled with the trial findings and felt confident that the product was a viable alternative to traditional fencing.

“The Goulburn Broken CMA was among 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,” Mr Turner said.

“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.

The Goulburn Broken CMA and North East CMA were the driving forces behind attracting funding to conduct a feasibility study on a river using the technology first trialled by the CSIRO.

“The CMAs teamed up with agritech start-up company, Agersens, which has been fine-tuning the technology ever since,” Mr Turner said.

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

She said virtual fencing offered many environment benefits.

“It can be used to protect establishing tree lines, paddock trees and sensitive areas such as hill tops after dry times and low-lying areas after wet periods,” she said.

“But it’s the production benefits that might surprise farmers, including automated rotational grazing, reduced fence maintenance and the early detection of missing stock.”

The eShepherd technology is scheduled for commercial release in the next 6 months.

The Victorian Government committed more than $500,000 over several years for the CMAs to work with NSW Murray Local Land Services (LLS) with much of the funding coming from the Victorian Government’s Regional Riparian Action Plan.

The Plan was launched in 2015 and is part of a broader $222m initiative to improve the health of waterways and catchments in regional Victoria.

The Murray LLS funding was made available by the NSW Government and the Australian National Landcare Programme.