Virtual fencing

Virtual fencing for spatial grazing of sheep could potentially unlock profitability gains and practical benefits for southern mixed farmers.

With virtual-fencing technology for cattle expected to be released in the near future, work is underway to investigate the development of cost-effective virtual-fencing technology for sheep. The technology is being tested for animal-welfare considerations and practices, and any commercial release will be subject to state-based legislation and regulations.

The GRDC has invested in research to analyse the potential benefits of virtual fencing for sheep in grain-growing regions and the results so far have been encouraging.

Evaluation of the potential profitability of sub-paddock grazing technology in a low-rainfall Mallee farming system has shown that spatial grazing can increase the profitability of livestock and increase whole-farm profit by 10 to 20 per cent (excluding the cost of the technology) depending on the status of soil-specific cropping management.

CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Rick Llewellyn, who has been leading the investigations, says the work has demonstrated that spatial grazing through the use of virtual fencing can greatly increase the potential for higher livestock numbers to increase overall whole-farm profit.

“In the case of a grower managing six different soil types with different crop inputs across their 3000-hectare farm, introducing spatial grazing could increase potential whole-farm profit by 15 per cent (depending on the cost of the technology) and the profit-maximising sheep stocking rate would more than double where the operation is 80 per cent cropping.”

Dr Llewellyn has outlined the potential benefits of virtual fencing at GRDC Grains Research Updates in the southern cropping region, where achieving optimal integration of cropping and grazing remains a major management challenge.

He says increasing paddock sizes (or in some cases removing fences) to increase cropping efficiency usually reduces the ability to graze efficiently and manage any areas vulnerable to soil erosion.

“The potential for virtual fencing using GPS-enabled devices that are attached to animals and provide a signal to animals to deter them from grazing in particular areas of a paddock is an attractive option to many growers.”

A study of grain growers’ use of precision-agriculture technology across 12 southern and western grain-growing regions indicated that 48 per cent of growers with livestock expected that they would derive substantial benefit from a technology that could control where livestock grazed using electronic collars or eartags.

“Being able to avoid excessive grazing pressure on the most vulnerable parts of the paddock could make grazing more profitable and less risky when meeting the increasing demand for early-season crop grazing to provide winter feed for livestock,” Dr Llewellyn says.

“Other potential benefits of spatial grazing include the ability to target grazing on areas of paddocks with high weed levels, reduced grazing pressure on vulnerable areas of establishing pastures, reduced risk of crop yield loss caused by overgrazing vulnerable areas of grazed grain crop, and protection of areas for revegetation.”

More information:

Dr Rick Llewellyn
08 8303 8502