A farmer in Belgium is using a GPS collar on his Aberdeen-Angus cattle that allows him to establish a ‘digital fence’ area and zap the animals with a mild shock should they stray too far.
Robin Mens, from Stotert near the hamlet of Olmen in the Belgian municipality of Balen, said that the so-called ‘digital fence’ system could revolutionise livestock farming.
The young farmer invested in Aberdeen-Angus cattle three years ago, but soon found that there were no pastures around his farmland where they could graze.
Mens explained to national newspaper Nieuws Blad: “I reached an agreement with the Agency for Nature and Forests (ANB) and was allowed to let the cattle graze in their Scheps nature reserve near my farm.
“However, they had to be kept in a closed field but it was not possible to erect fencing or install electric fence wires anywhere in the reserve.
“With nearby pastures disappearing, I thought there was nothing else to do but get rid of the animals.”
The young farmer scoured the Internet for solutions and came across a “Norwegian website that looked into grazing herds without the need for a physical boundary or an electric fence”.
He added: “We tried out a GPS tracking system and I negotiated with the company for years to use it.
“In the end, we became the first country in the EU that the Norwegians allowed to use the system.
“It was also important that the initiative was supported by the authorities and local nature organisations.”
According to news site Gazet van Antwerpen, the cattle are kept in a field with no visible boundary, apparently with unlimited freedom.
However, Mens can see where his 10 cows are and control them from the screen if needed.
He explained: “My animals wear a GPS collar, that way I know exactly where they are all the time. Even more interesting, is that I can control them with this system.
“I can digitally set out a boundary in the field and if they appear to be crossing the line, they will hear a sound that warns them to turn back.
“If they fail to respond to the sound, they receive a small electric shock, which is many times smaller than the zap from an electric fence.
“If the animal still tries to escape, I will be notified on my smartphone.”
The young farmer said: “They have been wearing the collar for four days now and they have already become accustomed to the system.
“I am sure this system will revolutionise livestock farming.”
The collars have now become part of a project for the Regional Landscape of the Small and Big Nete (RLKGN) institution, with other farmers in the area now using the devices.
Daan Janssens of the told Newsflash: “The technology of the Norwegian company No Fence that we now use allows you to receive a push message as soon as there is an escape.
“After the animals have ignored the audio signal three times and been shocked three times, the digital boundary is switched off so they don’t get zapped again.”
Farmer Mens is also looking into whether wolves could be fitted with the same system to prevent livestock attacks.
However, Maurice La Haye, team leader of Zoogdiervereniging (The Mammal Organisation), told Newsflash: “It takes a lot of work to catch a wolf and put a collar on them.
“You may need to replace the battery in several months or a year and it will be even more difficult to catch the wolf a second time. It will also take a lot more time to programme the accessible areas for the wolf, because their territory is much larger.
“While the technology is good enough for herbivores, it may not be good enough for carnivores yet.
“We always recommend farmers to use fencing to keep wolves away.”
RLKGN spokesperson Janssens also told Newsflash: “We agree that these collars won’t work on wolves.”
Erwin Vermeulen, spokesperson for the group Animal Rights, told Newsflash: “We do not support the use of animals as an instrument for human needs, such as being a lawnmower.
“It is also important that livestock farmers protect their animals from predators (which is also a legal obligation) and this appears to be the opposite. In addition, we are completely against the use of ‘shock collars’.”
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