Farmers and industry representatives were keen to highlight the potential benefits of virtual fencing at a workshop on livestock precision agriculture technology held at Nandaly, Victoria recently by Mallee Sustainable Farming (MSF). Presenters included University of New England precision livestock researchers Mark Trotter and Zac Economou, CSIRO’s Rick Llewellyn and Waikerie farmer Alan Buckley.
The bigger than expected crowd included participants who travelled from as far as Pt. Lonsdale, Western Victoria and New South Wales to hear about the latest innovation in spatial grazing technology and virtual fencing research and development in Australia and to see results from a collaborative GPS livestock tracking project which is currently being undertaken in a nearby trial paddock .
Discussion focussed on the potential benefits to soil protection, pasture utilisation, and the labour efficiency of being able to better manage stock in large paddocks with highly variable soil types. Researchers described the current status of the technology and the further development steps needed for virtual fencing to become a reality.
“There’s still a long way to go with development, especially with sheep, but we’ve had farmers calling for this technology for a long time and the enthusiasm and interest shown by participants at this workshop really highlights the potential” said CSIRO farming systems scientist and MSF board member, Dr. Rick Llewellyn who chaired the workshop.
“Having a paddock scale trial of GPS livestock tracking run in this region by the precision livestock experts at UNE is a very positive step because there’s so much potential for spatially-managed grazing in this environment where farmers have large cropping paddocks that suit cropping but make managing grazing of erosion-prone sands and heavier soils difficult”,
The livestock GPS tracking trial run at Nandaly by Dr. Mark Trotter and Zac Economou from UNE is continuing with the information contributing to an economic analysis of the potential for spatial grazing management being conducted by CSIRO and MSF.
Dr Trotter said that “the preliminary results from the GPS tracking has revealed that sheep preferentially graze the lighter sandy ridges first before moving into other parts of the paddock later in the grazing period”. “This has obvious implications for the over utilisation of these more vulnerable soils and really justifies the potential for virtual fencing in these systems.”
There are some other really interesting trends appearing in the study including significant changes in animal behaviour as a result of reductions in available feed, in this case the consumption of spilt grain. Mr Trotter said that “as this feed source runs out the grazing behaviour shifts dramatically, we may eventually be able to use this behavioural trend as an indicator of available feed and then apply virtual fencing to move animals to new sites to prevent overgrazing”. “The first trial was undertaken in a cereal stubble and we are now tracking the same sheep through a vetch pasture, it will be interesting to see if and how their utilisation of the paddock changes between these two very different feed bases”.
Waikerie farmer Allen Buckley spoke about his experience with grazing cereal crops according to soil type using temporary electric fencing and said that he sees big profit gains if the virtual fencing technology can be developed. “Virtual fencing is a potential game-changer for Mallee mixed farmers, ” he said.
The workshop was part of the ‘Maintaining Ground Cover in mixed farming systems’ project, funded by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority and is a collaboration between MSF, the University of New England and BCG. Research results from the project will be made available to Mallee farmers through MSF’s ongoing field day, research update and social media program.
For more information contact Michael Moodie, michael [dot] moodie [at] msfp [dot] org [dot] au