The bulk livestock project has achieved promising results

BIn the Leader’s Project “Random cattle”, Klein Regional Landscape, Grote Nete and KU Leuven investigate the potential and impacts of “virtual fencing” in animal welfare, nature management, agriculture, landscape quality and recreation.

the system

The technology comes from Norway and has already been tested in many countries. The collar has a GPS connected to a mobile network, so you as a farmer can check exactly where your animals are within a few centimeters. In the app, you can draw where animals are allowed to walk. You can also put up a fence in some additional areas within the boundary where animals are not allowed to graze, for example if there are plants that need to be maintained or a breeding ground for meadow birds that it is better not to disturb.

In the app, you can also easily see where the animals graze the most, how often and where the trauma occurred, how active the animals were and when they were most active, etc. What you should keep in mind is that there is a mobile network range. If it is not present, the system will continue to function properly, but the data will not be sent to the smartphone until the connection is reconnected.

Sound and shock system

When stray cattle approach a certain limit within a few meters, an ascending sound is emitted to indicate the limit. When the animal continues to walk, it receives a small shock that is comparable to 5-10% of the shock of classic electric fence systems. If an animal ignores the signals 3 times, you as a farmer will receive a push message with the message that the animal has escaped. This runaway animal can be quickly found via the app.

Collar batteries rarely need to be charged, because they contain solar panels. In the summer, when the days are long and the sun shines a lot, sheep and goat collars will last 4 to 6 weeks before they need to be recharged. In cattle and horses, the battery is larger, which means it runs a little longer, sometimes even during the entire grazing season.”

The shock caused by the collar is comparable to 5 to 10% of the shock of an electric fence. – Photo: Big and Small Nate Regional Landscape

Project start

The reason for starting the project was a question from cattle farmer Robin Mains. He was looking for a place to graze his cattle in Aberdeen because he did not have enough farmland. spoke last year countryside life He is still with him about starting the Loslopend Vee project. He explained how he came up with the idea of ​​testing technology with virtual fencing.

“My Aberdeen cattle are ideal for large scale ranching. They thrive best in natural areas with a variety of grasses and grasses. They are very self-reliant and can actually be outside all year round. They do well in poor, unfertilized grasslands thus It does not require additional feeding.

Near my company there is a home area About 300 hectares. To let Mashti graze there, I spoke to the Agency for Nature and Forestry (ANB), but they did not prefer fences and did not want trampled land. Rotational grazing with hypothetical limits can meet these requirements.

When I was looking for a solution, I came across Nofence, which designs and markets virtual fencing technology. They let me test the technology as the first cattle farmer in Belgium. I went looking for project partners and ended up at, among others, Regional Landscape Kleine, Grote Nete, and KU Leuven Campus Geel. They are coordinating and supervising the entire investigation.”

In the first phase, the project will take two years to inform the public about the technology, agriculture and nature sectors. Rural Leader approved the project which started working on goats, sheep, cattle and horses. Cattle are in the Scheps Nature Reserve in Balen, goats and sheep are in the “old landfill” in Mol, and horses are in the Landschap De Liereman in Oud-Turnhout.

At Liereman in Oud-Turnhout, horses graze inside a virtual fence.
At Liereman in Oud-Turnhout, horses graze inside a virtual fence. Photo: KU Leuven

Also for traditional farming

It is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers to find farmland. If they could expand their area into nature reserves, there would be a win-win situation for nature and agriculture. Natural grazing is a good way to preserve semi-natural landscapes. In this way, the biodiversity of those areas is also preserved.

With cows, you make very tasty natural meat in this way, because the diet in nature reserves is more diverse than the traditional one. Many applications are also possible in conventional farming. They are examined in more detail on the knowledge platform “Koesensor.be”.

animal welfare

According to Ben Aernouts, professor at KU Leuven Geel, there are many advantages in terms of animal welfare. First and foremost, he asserts that the shock technique used in cattle is different from that used with dogs. “During training, the dog often does not know that a shock is coming. Shepherd cattle are first warned by a clear upward acoustic signal. So they can more easily avoid the shock.

When one of our master’s students, Evy Tuytelaers, examined how cattle react to sound signals, it turned out that they continue to graze quietly more than half the time, while turning. Nor did they exhibit any undesirable behavior for the remaining half of the time. This means that they are not surprised by the sound and that they know the meaning of the sound. This is the response we were hoping for.

We can also infer from the data that cattle have different traits. Some push the boundaries much more and receive an audio signal more often than others. Because of this exploratory behavior, they sometimes get an electric shock, but that’s not a bad thing. As a result, cattle are not immediately exposed to further stress. They are just daredevils who want to look for good grass along the side. Fortunately, they are also making a good comeback.

We can conclude that cattle interact with borders much more than young cattle, but the learning process proceeded smoothly for both. During the approximately week-long learning phase, virtual boundaries are presented systematically and the animals learn to associate the sound signal with the presence of invisible boundaries, and shock when they move across those boundaries. The cattle remained somewhat calmer as they became accustomed to the order, while the sheep and goats were more prone to startle and react more explosively. Then they returned to the “safe haven” at a faster pace.

The collars run on solar panels.  As a result, you only need to replace the battery every 4 to 6 weeks.
The collars run on solar panels. As a result, you only need to replace the battery every 4 to 6 weeks. – Photo: Big and Small Nate Regional Landscape

Lots of data via the app

“Farmers can also graze their livestock more easily using virtual technology,” continues Aernouts. “For example, ranchers can be more responsive to daytime weather and graze their animals in shaded grassy areas when there is strong sunlight or a grassy area that is not easy to submerge when it rains. This way we can better match the availability of food with the needs of the animals.” Together with Associate Professor Karen VanCampenhout, we are looking at whether we can also take soil health into account.”

You can also see if each animal has via the app if there are health or care issues when you notice significant differences in behavior compared to previous days.

In addition, the virtual fence is not only beneficial for the welfare of livestock, but also for the welfare of wild animals. Wild animals often get entangled in the fencing of a meadow or nature reserve, and this problem is now avoided. They can now walk freely in the meadow.”

Farmer Experience

Kurt Sanen, who owns an organic farm with Arden Foskop sheep and Kempin’s Red Holstein cattle, has tested hoops on his farm and is satisfied. He is very interested in agroecology and sees many advantages in technology. My company is located in the middle of a nature reserve in Natuurpunt in Dassenaarde. I’ve been managing nature there for about 100 hectares for 20 years.

I work with local livestock breeds and sell my products in a short chain. My sheep stay outside for a year and don’t come in. Roaming in nature reserves. We also have kimpen goats, and now we mainly do health and forestry grazing.

Reuben Mains called me and explained how the collars work. This piqued my interest, so I decided to test it with my goats, and later with my cows. I’ve laid 10 red and white cows in the Zamels Berwick Nature Reserve in a gale, and they thrive there very well.

Peter van Romst from Obs’Herbe guided me and I was very satisfied with it. Turns out the cows weren’t under any stress, and thanks to guidance I didn’t have that either. We’ve decided not to put a nail in there.

I especially felt that it was easier to compromise between cultivation and nature. The farmer wants his animals to be healthy and grow well. Nature lovers want to achieve the goals of nature. It is not always easy to combine this, but with this technology it is possible. You can tile these rare plants so that the cows do not come close to them and give space to the birds of wings to incubate her eggs. Of course, landscaping without wire is also much nicer. ”

Kurt Sneen is concerned about the potential price hike. “For now, the prices are still acceptable, but will they stay that way if this technology is used more and more?”

What after the project?

Currently, two farmers have purchased the collars themselves. Landschap De Liereman managers will continue to use collars for Konik horses, Galloway cattle and Cameroon sheep in the coming months. A project application has now been submitted to Leader Kempen Zuid, among others, to map the impact of micrograzing with virtual boundaries on carbon storage in grasslands.

For anyone interested in virtual fencing technology, knowledge clips have been created and lectures already given on the project are posted online. You can find it at www.loslopenvee.be

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