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  • Writer's pictureAlistair

No fences? Tracking and collars for the Galloways

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Nofence smartphone screen
Position of each cow, together with the current pasture boundary, and details on the highlighted cow (who in this case has had 3 audible warnings and no shocks today) all shown on my smart phone

We are trialling the Nofence system (Nofence - World’s first virtual fence for livestock) at Cefn Garthenor. It strikes me as a bit of a game changer and is hopefully going to help allow our Galloways to roam usefully on the land. The idea is simple.

Each member of the herd (apart from calves, who will in theory stick with their mothers) has a collar. That collar tracks using GPS and sends and receives information using the mobile network. Using a simple app you can draw a pasture boundary. It does not need to follow actual fences and hedges but can actually cut a field in half. When a cow approaches the boundary line (which is of course not visible to her) she gets an audible signal. I tried this out walking around … a bleeping that gets more insistent as you approach the boundary. Much like noise your car makes if you have a reversing or parking sensor system.

Galloways model their Nofence collars

Now if the cow crosses the boundary the collar acts as an electric fence and gives a shock. Very quickly the cow should learn to turn around if the signal is heard. It is just an audible cue as opposed to the visual cue which a physical electric fence provides.

We have tested this in four fields close to the barn. One field is a go anywhere space. The other three have a boundary across them. It works. Over the week the Galloways figured it out, and by the end were reaching to audible warnings and not getting shocks. You can see a striking strip in the fields which are divided … grazed on one side, but not on the other.

The base of the red marks shows the boundary line where you can see the change in grass (grazed vs non-grazed)

On top of this, you get all sorts of useful data. You get heat maps of the pasture area, so you can see where the cattle are spending most time. You get activity analysis for each animal, so you might be able to spot a problem if there is a significant change. You get warnings if no movement is detected, and of course alerts for escapes, shocks and audible warnings.

If a cow “escapes”, the idea is that herd instinct means she will come back over the boundary to re-join the others, especially given that they are very unlikely to follow. In our training this all seems to work.

Finally, if we allow the data to be used in this way (which we have), any neighbour within 20km can go to Nofence grazing map and see the pasture boundary currently in use and where the cattle are within it. We have a few people who regularly use the bridleway, a couple of whom are nervous around cattle. This may help them.

Things are likely to be a bit more complicated in some areas of Cefn Garthenor when we try a more real-world situation.

  • Mobile coverage is weak in some areas (this impacts on reporting but not on the warning sounds and shocks, as these use GPS).

  • The boundary positioning is not as precise as a physical fence which may be tricky in tight areas, as below.

  • Narrow areas do not work well as there may be warnings whichever way the cow turns.

  • Within a scrub / wooded area it is not always easy for a cow to turn around (instinct to go forward rather than reverse) which means the warnings may not be heeded. We have a lot of these areas, especially around the bridleway which I know some neighbours would appreciate me keeping cow free. I’m not sure how or if this will work.

In terms of economics, I suspect (if it works) it may be cheaper than investing in fence maintenance if the herd is relatively small. I understand it may be good on common ground too … although I’m happier having at least a decent external boundary fence around the whole farm (not only to stop our animals leaving the land if they evade Nofence, but to stop animals from other farms entering of course).


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