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Learn about the implementation of virtual herding technologies on Australian dairy farms.

Virtual Herding Program

A major project has been established under the Commonwealth Rural R&D for Profit programme, to undertake research and development of the implementation of virtual herding technology across the major livestock industries in Australia.

Overview of the project

The Australian Government's Rural Research and Development (R&D) for Profit programme is a $200 million competitive grants program with funding available over eight financial years (2014/2015 to 2021/2022).

The Virtual Herding project received $2.6 million from the Australian Government through its Rural R&D for Profit program. A further $1.365 million has been provided by a number of Rural Research and Development Corporations and R&D providers. The R&D providers include, CSIRO, the University of Sydney, University of New England, the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, The University of Melbourne and Agersens Pty Ltd, with additional contributions from Dairy Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and Australian Pork Limited. The Project began in July, 2016 and is expected to finish in November, 2020.

Using Virtual Herding technology, the research team will investigate the potential to constrain animals to certain areas (better grazing management and environmental outcomes), autonomously herd animals, or move individual or groups of animals in a herd differently to the rest of that herd. Fundamental research involving behavioural observations and physiological measurements will be critical to ensure that the technology does not compromise animal welfare.

The Virtual Herding project overview (PDF, 262KB)

The following video helps explain Virtual Herding technology and the responses of livestock that we have observed in the Virtual Herding project.

Research and program areas:

Optimising the animal response to virtual herding technology (PDF, 204KB)

Optimising livestock and pasture management for intensive dairy and beef through more controlled pasture allocation (PDF, 274KB)

Determine best sub-herd and individual animal management for dairy and beef production systems (PDF, 302 KB)

Using virtual herding technology to better manage sheep (PDF, 201 KB)

Challenges for integration and adoption of virtual herding (PDF, 214KB)

Research Activities

The project aims to evaluate the on-farm application of virtual herding (VH) technology, demonstrate its implementation, and quantify and extend its benefits across the major livestock industries in Australia. Below are the five main subprograms within the project.

Subprogram 1: Optimising the animal response to VH technology.

Subprogram 2: Using VH technology to improve pasture utilisation.

Subprogram 3: Using VH technology to manage individual animals in a herd.

Subprogram 4: Using VH technology to better manage sheep.

Subprogram 5: Challenges for integration and adoption of VH.

Click here to find more detailed information on each of the subprograms.

Project Groups

The principal investigators for this project are:

Richard Rawnsley, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Burnie, Tas.
Megan Verdon, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Burnie, Tas.
Caroline Lee, CSIRO, Armidale, NSW
David Henry, CSIRO, Werribee, Vic.
Dana Campbell, CSIRO, Armidale, NSW
Cameron Clark, University of Sydney, Camden, NSW
Sabrina Lomax, University of Sydney, Camden, NSW
Ruth Nettle, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic.
David Lamb, University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Danila Marini, University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Sally Haynes, Agersens Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Vic.
Cameron Ralph, Agersens Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Vic.
Nikki Reichelt, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic.

Project Steering Committee

A core requirement of the Virtual Herding project was the establishment of a project Steering Committee which represents stakeholders and includes industry and RDC representatives as well as an animal welfare agency representative. The Steering Committee is chaired by Dr Drewe Ferguson from CSIRO and meets at least twice a year. The role of the Steering Committee is to guide and direct the project and make it accountable to the respective livestock industries.

Steering Committee for Virtual Herding project - Terms of Reference (PDF, 762KB)

Contacts

Cath Lescun, Program Manager, Dairy Australia

Tel: 0439 555 001

Ray King, Project Manager

Tel: 0412 322 047

  • Copy Link Links

    Links

    Agersens Pty Ltd

    Agersens are providing some in-kind support to this Rural R&D for Profit project. The virtual herding technology was first developed by the CSIRO more than 10 years ago and now they have licensed the commercial patents to Agersens Pty Ltd who have begun testing the first commercial prototypes for use in the commercial livestock production as well as in this Project.

    Website: https://agersens.com/

    Rural R&D for Profit Programme

    The Rural Research and Development (R&D) programme boosts funding to the rural research and development organisations (RDCs) for nationally coordinated strategic research that delivers real outcomes for Australian producers. The total funding available for the programme is $190.5 million over eight years, ending on 30 June 2022.

    Website: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/innovation/rural-research-development-for-profit

  • Copy Link News and media
  • Copy Link Scientific publications

    Scientific publications

    2019

    Kearton, T, Marini, D, Cowley F, Belson, S and Lee, C (2019). The effect of virtual fencing stimuli on stress responses and behaviour in sheep. Animals, 9(1), 30.

    Marini, D, Cowley, F, Belson, S and Lee, C (2019). Individual differences in temperament and avoidance of learning of virtual fences in sheep. Applied Animal Behaviour Science (submitted).

    Lomax, S, Colusso, P and Clark, CEF (2019). Does virtual fencing work for grazing dairy cattle? Animals (submitted)

    Reichelt, N, Nettle, R and Cullen, B. (2019). Progressing our “digital agricultural ambitions”: unpacking a Responsible Innovation pathway in the case of virtual herding technology in Australia. European Society for Rural Sociology Conference, Trondheim, Norway. June 25 – 28, 2019 (Working Group 1).

    Verdon, M, Lee C, Marini, D and Rawnsley, R. (2019). Pre-exposure to an electrical stimulus primes associative pairing of audio and electrical stimuli for dairy heifers in a virtual fencing feed attractant trial. Animals (submitted).

    Kearton, TR, Marini, D, Llewellyn, R, Belson, S and Lee, C (2019). Social transmission of learning a virtual fencing system in sheep. 53rd Congress of International Society of Applied Ethology, Bergen, Norway. August 5-9, 2019 (submitted)

    Campbell, DLM, Haynes, SJ, Lea, JM, Farrer, WJ and Lee, C (2019). Temporary exclusion of cattle from a riparian zone using virtual fencing technology. Animals, 9, 5; doi:10.3390/ani9010005.

    2018

    Lee, C and Campbell, DLM, (2018). Cognitive evaluation of predictability and controllability and implications for animal welfare. Keynote address. Proceedings of the 52nd International Society of Applied Ethology Congress, pg 52.

    Campbell, DLM, Lea, JM, Haynes, SJ, Farrer, WJ, Leigh-Lancaster, C and Lee, C (2018). Virtual fencing of cattle using an automated collar in a feed attractant trial. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 200, 7-17.

    Lee, C., Colditz, IG, and Campbell, DLM (2018). A Framework to Assess the Impact of New Animal Management Technologies on Welfare: A Case Study of Virtual Fencing. Frontiers in Veterinary Science: 21 August, 2018.

    Lomax, S., Colusso, P, and Clark, CEF (2018). Making virtual fencing work for individual dairy cattle. Australian Dairy Science Symposium, 21-23 November, 2018. Palmerston North, New Zealand. (in press).

    Marini, D.; Meuleman, M.D.; Belson, S.; Rodenburg, T.B.; Llewellyn, R.; Lee, C. (2018). Developing an Ethically Acceptable Virtual Fencing System for Sheep. Animals, 8, 33; doi:10.3390/ani8030033.

    Reichelt, N., Nettle, R and Cullen, B. (2018). Defining a ‘new technology politics’ in the adoption of Smart Farming technology. NJAS - Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences - Journal of the Royal Netherlands Society for Agricultural Sciences (KLV).

    Verdon, M, Rawnsley, R, Raedts, P and Freeman, M (2018). The Behaviour and Productivity of Mid-Lactation Dairy Cows Provided Daily Pasture Allowance over 2 or 7 intensively Grazed Strips. Animals, 8, 115-129.

    2017

    Campbell, DLM, Lea, JM, Farrer, WJ, Haynes, SJ, and Lee, C (2017). Tech-savvy beef cattle? How heifers respond to moving virtual fence lines. Animals, 7, 72-83.

    Campbell, DLM, Lea, JM, Farrer, WJ, Haynes, SJ, and Lee, C (2017). Commercialising an automated GPS-based virtual fencing system for livestock. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group Level, 5-8 September, De ReeHorst, The Netherlands. Page, 232.

    Lomax, S., Colusso, P., Gargulio, J., and Clark, C. (2017). Determining learning and behavioural response to a virtual fence for dairy cows. European Conference on Precision Livestock Farming EC-PLF, 12th-14th September, 2017, Nantes, France.

    Lomax, S and Clark, C (2017) Determining variability in cattle learning and behavioural response to a virtual fence. Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on the Assessment of Animal Welfare at Farm and Group Level WAFL, 5th-8th September, 2017, De ReeHorst, The Netherlands.

    Marini, D, Meuleman, D, Belson, S, Rodenburg, B and Lee, C (2017). Development of an ethical virtual fencing system for sheep. Proceedings of the 51st Congress of the International Society for Applied Ethology, 7-10 August, 2017, Aarhus, Denmark. Page, 159.

  • Copy Link Subprograms

    Subprograms

    Subprogram 1: Optimising the animal response to virtual herding technology.

    This subprogram is led by Dr Dana Campbell and the CSIRO team at Armidale, NSW and will investigate the response of beef cows in response to VH cues and controls, as well as the use of VH technology to herd or move animals around the farm.

    CSIRO will conduct controlled experiments to:

    • Determine how cattle respond to moving and complex virtual fences.
    • Optimise be the cues and controls necessary for the most efficient operation of VH technology to restrict animals.
    • Determine how to encourage cattle to move from one location to another using VH technology.
    • Determine the capacity to control individual animals within herds.
    • Document the welfare assessment of the application of VH technology in cattle.

    Subprogram 2: Determine best livestock and pasture management for intensive dairy and beef through more controlled pasture allocation

    This subprogram is led by Dr Megan Verdon and the UTAS team at Burnie, Tasmania and will investigate how VH technology may be used to strategically alter pasture allocation in intensive grazing systems to improve pasture utilisation.

    Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture will conduct field studies to:

    • Quantify how VH may be applied to increase pasture utilisation through more regular and more tightly controlled stock movements.
    • Quantify how VH can be applied to face management of forage crops.
    • Quantify how VH can be applied to rotational grazing on heifer rearing blocks.
    • Quantify how VH can be applied to modifying paddock layout through non-linear and moving VH fencelines, for the dairy and beef industries.
    • Establish and document agreed protocols for use of VF to increase pasture utilisation through more controlled pasture and forage allocation.

    Subprogram 3: Determine best sub-herd and individual animal management for dairy and beef.

    This subprogram, led by Dr Sabrina Lomax and the University of Sydney team at Camden, NSW, will develop training programs for animals to learn to respond effectively to the cues and controls, and will also examine moving individual or groups of animals in a herd differently to the rest of that herd.

    University of Sydney will conduct field experiments to:

    • Quantify how VH cues can be customised and used to control individual cow movement within a herd to improve animal performance and welfare.
    • Determine how VH can be applied to control individual or sub-herd cattle location and movement.
    • Enhance cow movement to and from the dairy within automatic and conventional milking systems.
    • Optimise the VH system to control cattle location and movement in specific situations to optimise individual feeding and to restrict cattle from environmentally sensitive areas for dairy and beef systems.

    Subprogram 4: Identify opportunities for labour savings through the application of VH in sheep wool and meat enterprises.

    This subprogram is led by Dr Danila Marini and the University of New England and CSIRO teams at Armidale, NSW and will determine the optimum audio and electrical pulse cues that will successfully manage sheep and optimise their use of pasture, without adversely affecting the health and welfare of the animals.

    CSIRO and University of New England will conduct fundamental research to:

    • Determine the appropriate level and duration of electrical stimulation and audio cues to sheep to enable sufficient control.
    • Determine the individual variation and group dynamics in sheep subjected to VH technology.
    • Determine the effectiveness of VH technology to restrict movement of sheep to improve pasture utilisation.
    • Determine the effectiveness of VH technology to encourage movement of sheep in practices such as mustering.
    • Define and document the adoption pathway(s) for implementation of VH technology in the livestock industries.

    Subprogram 5: Identify considerations and challenges for integration and adoption of VH.

    This subprogram is led by Ms Nikki Reichelt and The University of Melbourne team at Parkville, Victoria and will develop an understanding of the learning, management and ethical challenges faced by farmers that may implement VH on their farms.

    The University of Melbourne will conduct workshops and case studies to:

    • Identify key considerations for adoption of VH technology for the farmer and advisor sectors of each of the livestock industries.
    • Identify challenges for integration on-farm, to assess costs and benefits and the value of on-farm VH technology to different stakeholders.
    • Develop a coordinated plan across the livestock industries to realise benefits and address identified challenges.

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