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Invisible fence for cows

One of the biggest attention-grabbers at the 2021 Cattle Industry Convention & NCBA Tradeshow was at the Gallagher booth. The company is best known for producing world-leading electric fencing supplies, along with electronic ear tag readers.

But that’s not what cattle producers were looking at. Rather, it was a large dummy bull with an odd-looking neck collar. That collar is the heart of a new electronic fence system coming in a year or two that Gallagher thinks could revolutionize grazing management. They are calling the system eSheperd, the first virtual fencing system for livestock.

It works a little like the invisible yard fencing for dogs. But while the dog fence requires a buried cable, eSheperd does not. Rather, boundaries are maintained by a GPS system. The GPS signal goes to a controller unit in your pastures that broadcasts the boundaries you set to establish a precise invisible border fence system. The broadcast system can work in a radius of 5 to 6 miles of the controller. 

The cows wear the collar, and if they hit the invisible boundary, they get a shock on the top of the neck to back them up. The shock unit has a small solar panel to keep it charged.

The technology comes from Australia, explains Gallagher learning and development director Ray Williams. Gallagher bought the company, and is just now starting to test and develop the system. “A year from now, I’ll be able to tell you a lot more,” he says about commercial availability. 

He also doesn’t know about the cost. “We’re talking to farmers and ranchers now about what they think it would be worth,” says Williams. “What I do know is that it can cost $15,000 to $20,000 per mile to build a permanent fence, and this could eliminate that.”

Of course, an electric fence costs a lot less, and that is what eSheperd would likely replace for rotational graziers. Williams likes the potential to use it for strip grazing, where a manager will eventually be able to sit at breakfast with a computer and use the pointer on the screen to redraw the invisible fences for the day that will move the cattle to new grass. He says that just like cattle get used to electric fences, they get used to the invisible system, knowing when to move and quickly finding their new boundaries. 

Also, he says, the system might work well for making invisible borders around ponds and waterways, or creating alleys to move cattle from one pasture to the next. It would eliminate step-in posts, broken fencing wire, and the labor of moving fences.

Visit the Gallagher website to learn more.

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