Entry Date:
May 24, 2007

Cow Herding with Virtual Fences

Building fences to manage the grazing of cattle can cost upwards of $20,000 per kilometer. These fences have additional maintenance costs and do not provide fine grain control over the area in which the cattle are grazing. We have developed a system to provide virtual fencing and control of herds of cattle. All or some of the cows are outfitted with our system which has position and orientation sensors as well as sound and shock systems to provide feedback to the cattle. We can thus create virtual fences which can be easily moved depending on the conditions of the fields. For instance, a week after an isolated rain storm a rancher may want to move the herd to the area which received the rain and now has new growth.

The system uses a directional sound system to indicate when a cow is approaching the virtual fence. If the animal does not respond to the sound queue a small directional shock is applied. Preliminary experiments show that the cattle learn quickly to respond to the sound and rarely need to be reinforced with the shock. Limits on the total number of sound and shock queues are enforced to prevent stressing the animal. As such, our system still requires perimeter fencing, but less division on the interior. The rancher is able to see in real time the locations of the animals (and in the future heath status) as well as historical data. This improves land management and utilization.

We are also developing algorithms which model and predict the motions and reactions of the cattle. This allows us to deliver the proper and minimal stimulus to get the desired action. Additionally, by identifying leaders of the herd we will only need to place instruments on a small percentage of the total herd.