The ability to control cattle from your farm office, or even off-farm, could soon become a commercial reality.
And one company offering such technology to control cattle was profiled by Farmers Guardian earlier this year.
New Zealand-based Halter was set up by Craig Piggott in 2016.
Mr Piggot, who has a dairy farming and mechanical engineering background, came up with an idea aimed at removing the inefficiencies and imprecision of a pasture-based dairy businesses.
His background included a spell with a low-cost satellite launch company and he began to assess the value this technology could bring to farming.
Mr Piggott says: “It has always been hard to be efficient around fencing and infrastructure.
“Our initial aim was to develop a system for fenceless farming, but we soon realised that virtual fencing brought with it the ability to shift and move animals, so drafting and splitting out individual animals from the herd became easy.
Then we moved on to look at some of the animal behaviour characteristics which are easy to track.”
The technology is based around ‘cowgorithim’, which says Mr Piggott, is a cow guidance system built into the solar-powered collar the animal wears around its neck.
The technology is continually interacting with the animals, giving them a left or right sound while building their trust so, unlike other systems, the system does not continually rely on electric shocks.
Mr Piggott explains: “It makes a high-pitched sound if the cow goes beyond her virtual boundary and this gets louder if the animal continues to go the wrong way.
We talk to them throughout, so they quickly adapt to the system.
“This started out as a tool to do away with fences, working on satellite or drone technology to set perimeters using GPS co-ordinates arranged as a square.
Once set into the collar the cow cannot move beyond those co-ordinates.
“We looked at the fact that cows are constantly walking in and out of the milking parlour and considered how to put her on the cow tracks and return her back to the shed.
“This is a huge saving in labour time and costs and, coupled with the ability to shift individual cows into groups, removes the need for any kind of drafting gates, another hardware saving.”
Mr Piggott says the technology also allows farmers to monitor the health of the stock.
By continually tracking the motion of the cow it becomes easy to report anything she is doing that is out of context.
For example, if she is walking less or is slower, it is an indication she is lame and/or she is eating less.
The farmer will then receive an alert to his mobile and is able to locate the animal.
Mr Piggott believes the opportunity provided by this technology is ‘limitless’.
He says: “As we work with the cows, the more we understand about their actions and questions.
"We have so much more we want to build into the collars, including an ability to update the software remotely.”
The collars have already been trialled in real farming situations on Halter’s test farm and were deployed onto a small number of Waikato farms at the end of 2019.
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