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 Victorian Government grant of $75 000, 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.