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 under way to investigate the development of cost-effective virtual fencing technology for sheep.
The technology is currently being tested for animal welfare considerations and practices, and any commercial release will be subject to state-based legislation and regulations.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation 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.
CSIRO senior research scientist Dr Rick Llewellyn, who has been leading the investigations, said the work had importantly demonstrated that spatial grazing through the use of virtual fencing could greatly increase the potential for higher livestock numbers to increase overall whole-farm profit.
‘‘In the case of a farmer currently managing six different soil types with different crop inputs across their 3000ha farm, introducing spatial grazing could increase potential whole-farm profit by 15 per cent (depending on 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.
‘‘The potential for virtual fencing using GPS-enabled devices, which 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 farmers.’’
Dr Llewellyn said unlike with cattle, the use of collars with sheep was unlikely to be a long-term solution for commercial devices so technical development of other platforms such as eartags was likely to be required.
■More details about the studies can be found at http://grdc.com.au/Research-and-Development/GRDC-Update-Papers