TRIAL work involving an innovative virtual fencing system is proving a very effective method of controlling the movement of cattle on mined land being rehabilitated in Central Queensland.
A mob of 10 steers have been fitted with eShepherd GPS enabled collars allowing Peabody staff at the Burton mine, 30km north east of Moranbah, to monitor the cows’ movements and eating patterns by computer.
Peabody environment manager Justin Vohland said it was important to understand the impact of grazing and cattle pressure on the rehabilitation areas.
“We’re working to return the majority of disturbed areas to bushland or grassland for grazing,” Mr Vohland said.
“The eShepherd collars have enabled us to install virtual fencing and control where the cattle go meaning we’re able to keep them out of certain areas – like riparian zones or recent rehabilitation maintenance areas.
“They also enable us to gather important data about cattle movements and which areas they may preferentially graze on 24/7 from a smart phone, PC or tablet.”
The collars were fitted in November last year, and after a training process in a holding paddock, the cattle were released within the 80 hectare area bounded by the virtual fences.
“The collars have an audible alarm that sounds, before a mild current is delivered if the animal does not turn away from the virtual fence,” Mr Vohland said. “The cattle certainly learn to quickly turn away once they hear the alarm.”
Mr Vohland said over recent months the number of audible alarms had remained relatively stable while the number of pulses had gone down.
“It’s certainly a learned behaviour and very effective,” he said. “The cattle certainly respect the virtual fence.”
Mr Vohland said the collars had been fitted relatively loosely. “We want an animal to be able to slip a collar if they become tangled up,” he said.
“We’ve only had one issue where a steer tried to go through an old fence. However, it was easy to track the collar and the steer had returned to his mates.”
The virtual fences are plotted on a computer and can be altered as required with the click of a mouse. Valuable data is collected from the cattle via a communications tower on the mine site.
The trial is planned to be expanded with up to an additional 160 cattle.
Mr Vohland said the eShepherd system had proven a very effective fencing system without the capital outlay of wires and posts. “We can place the cattle where we want them and move them as required,” he said. “It’s a very easy and effective system.”
Cattle producer Greg Smith said he was very surprised just how quickly his cattle became educated to virtual fences.
“We put the collars on the steers and let them out in about two acre holding paddock beside the yards,” Mr Smith said.
“A virtual fence was drawn across the centre of that paddock.
“I didn’t think it would be so effective. I thought a steer might jump forward when it came to the fence, but when they received the pulse for the first time they would spin around and go back to their mates.
“From then on they would hear the first of the two audible alarms and just turn and feed back the other way.
“That was it. Whenever they hear that alarm they respect it. No one animal crosses the line. It is very impressive.”
Mr Smith and his wife Laraine lease 12,000 hectares of country from Peabody.
“There is no doubt virtual fencing has major applications for the cattle industry, particularly for pasture and environmental management,” Mr Smith said.
“I can see a day when we don’t have internal fences.”
The CSIRO developed technology was commercialised by Melbourne-based agri-tech company Agersens.