Virtual Fencing Provides Management Options For Cattle Producers - Cowsmo

Virtual Fencing Provides Management Options For Cattle Producers

Jenny Butcher and Wes Kuntz were like many livestock farmers and faced the costly prospect of rebuilding fences.

One of the areas that needed work was in a rented pasture and that meant much higher potential rents if the owner had to rebuild the fences.

They found a new option in virtual fencing for their cattle and became the first Gallagher eShepherd customers in Canada.

Kuntz and Butcher are dairy and beef farmers from near Brantford, Ont. and also run a popular on-farm food outlet, the Little Brown Cow, through which they sell all the milk and beef from their farm along with many other local food products.

They process their milk on site and make cheese and other dairy products. They are busy and a technology solution made sense for their grazing challenges.

Kuntz and Butcher now manage their cattle movement on their phones or a computer, setting the fence boundaries and moving them as needed. They were speakers at a recent pasture meeting at the farm of Brussels Agri-Services owner Tim Prior. Brussels Agri-Services sold Kuntz and Butcher the system. Prior also is testing it on his farm.

The cows wear a solar-powered collar, says Ken Fraser, of Gallagher Animal Management. It weighs about 10 pounds and hangs on chains over a cow’s neck. There’s a speaker that gives the cow an audible signal that it is getting closer to a boundary and then if the cow continues through the audible warning, it can be given a shock, through the chains on the side of its neck.

The eShepherd system works best when there’s a perimeter fence that keeps the cattle from roadways or other farms. However, inside that perimeter, there are many options to manage the cattle.

It works especially well for rotational grazing.

“This will allow us to move our animals, scheduled throughout the day, with the click of a button,” says Fraser. It takes about a week to train the animals on the system.

The system has several built-in safeguards. For example, it will show an alert when a paddock is created without a water source. It will also stop pulsing an animal once it is beyond the boundary, but it will create a new boundary and gradually move the animal back to its original paddock. Farmers get a notice when a cow goes outside the virtual fence boundary. The individual cow dot on the phone shows the direction of movement of the cow.

Each animal is tracked by GPS locator so they can be identified on a phone or computer.

Training starts at the perimeter fence as the cows learn about the different boundary warnings as they near the fence.

“It’s like having an electric fence on the exterior fence as well,” says Kuntz.

You can tell when each animal has received a shock, so that might help determine when all of the animals have been trained. However, Butcher says that she could see the more aggressive animals getting an electric pulse while training, and the others following that animal away from the fence and never getting a pulse.

Kuntz and Butcher’s farm with beef cattle is hilly and has some scrub on it, so running a temporary fence that’s moved regularly is challenging. Now, instead of rolling up the fence to move it, Kuntz says he can change the boundary on his phone.

The fence currently beeps the cow first at about 24 feet from the boundary, then again at 12 feet, but Prior says the company is aiming to reduce that significantly. The pulse of electricity that the cow receives is between 1,500 to 2,000 kilovolts.

“It’s just a deterrent shock, they’re not getting hurt,” he says.

The collars cost about $350 and a minimum 50 have to be purchased. Then there is a $2.75 per month data fee when the collars are on and being used. The system can use cell service if it’s available or it can work off of a local area network (known as LORA) set up using a base station.

In the field at Prior’s Grazing Meadows Wagyu farm, the black Wagyu cattle wander through the grass, with no physical fence keeping them constrained. However, the grazing pattern shows that there’s only so far they go before the virtual fence holds them back.

Many of the cows have calves at their side, and the calves have no collar. Prior says the calves might wander off a small distance, but they’ll always come back to their mothers, so as long as the mothers are contained, the calves are as well.

Source: Farmtario / John Greig

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