Researchers are investigating how dairy cows respond to GPS collars as virtual fencing moves closer to fruition.
Virtual fencing is a technology that could be a game changer for the livestock industry, using GPS collars to control sheep and cattle.
It has the potential to save producers thousands of dollars in fencing and labour costs.
The Virtual Herding Project is a collaboration between the CSIRO, the University of Sydney, University of New England, University of Melbourne, the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, and Melbourne agri-tech start up company Agersens, which is commercialising the prototype.
Sabrina Lomax, from the University of Sydney’s Dairy Science Group at Camden, is one of several researchers involved in the Commonwealth Government-funded project.
The dairy research component of the project is focusing on how dairy cows respond to the technology, and how it can be incorporated into conventional and automated milking systems.
“I’ve finished up a couple of trials using dry cows and looking at how much variation there is in individual responses,” Dr Lomax said.
“The answer is that there is pretty distinct variation dependent a lot on what I believe is cow personality interactions.
“So it’s complex but it means that we’ve got a lot of challenges ahead in how we can train animals to respond appropriately to the cues so it can be implemented on-farm.
“Milking cows will be a bit further down the track when we start working with the prototypes.”
Dairy farmers keen for technology
Dr Lomax said researchers were trying to classify animal behaviour.
“Then, I’d say in about a year’s time, we’ll start working with our milking herd to help control traffic into our dairy robot, and then we’d also like to compare its application in conventional milking systems,” she said.
The researcher said dairy farmers had expressed a dire need for the technology to be implemented.
“They’re engaging well with the research and they’re really excited about the commercialisation of these devices,” she said.
“I think it’ll have a huge impact on dairy farming in the future in terms of strip grazing, but not only grazing and pasture management, but also being able to virtually herd animals back to the dairy, which will reduce labour hours out in the field.”
Dr Lomax said the project was expected to take about four-and-a-half years, and they were about six months in.
“The program as a whole is making good progress. The CSIRO is working in beef and sheep, we’re looking at individual responses,” she said.
The technology researchers are using is based on dog-training collars.
“They’re collar-mounted devices that as an animal approaches a virtual boundary, or an exclusion zone, it receives an audio cue, but if it keeps proceeding forward it gets a mild electrical stimulus, kind of like a muscle stimulus,” Dr Lomax said.
“Eventually the idea is that the animal learns to associate the audio cue with the electrical stimulus and will start responding just to the audio cue alone, which over time will reduce the number of electrical stimuli the animal receives, so it has added animal welfare benefits.”
Source: ABC Rural