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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Madison, Wisconsin » U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center » Environmentally Integrated Dairy Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #402552

Research Project: Improving Sustainability of Dairy and Forage Production Systems for the Upper Midwest

Location: Environmentally Integrated Dairy Management Research

Title: An assessment of virtual fence technology for dairy heifer grazing

item HOLOHAN, CONOR - Agri-Food And Biosciences Institute
item LIVELY, FRANCIS - Agri-Food And Biosciences Institute
item Ogden, Robin
item Bauman, Lisa
item GUMUS, HIDIR - Ankara University Of Turkey
item Jaramillo, David
item ARNOTT, GARETH - Queens University - United Kingdom
item PALME, RUPERT - University Of Veterinary Medicine
item Akins, Matthew

Submitted to: American Dairy Science Association Abstracts
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/12/2023
Publication Date: 6/28/2023
Citation: Holohan, C., Lively, F., Ogden, R.K., Bauman, L.M., Gumus, H., Jaramillo, D.M., Arnott, G., Palme, R., Akins, M.S. 2023. An assessment of virtual fence technology for dairy heifer grazing. American Dairy Science Association Abstracts. June 25-28, 2023.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Virtual fencing (VF) is a technology which enables grazing livestock to be managed without the use of a physical fence. The system typically comprises a mobile phone application (through which the user sets the VF boundary) and a GPS-enabled neck collar. When the animal approaches the VF, it receives an audio warning to turn around. This is followed by an electric pulse if it proceeds beyond the VF. There is significant potential for VF technology to facilitate managed grazing on U.S. farms, however there is a requirement that such technologies are reliable and adhere to high animal welfare standards. Using Nofence® VF collars, the objective of this study was to evaluate the ability of VF to contain grazing cattle and to determine possible impacts on animal welfare compared to conventional electric fencing. Sixty-four postbred Holstein heifers were blocked by age and bodyweight and randomly assigned to one of two fencing treatments; virtual fencing (VF; n = 32) and electric fencing (EF; n = 32). Eight groups of 8 heifers were assessed across two consecutive cohorts, from July until September 2022, with each cohort lasting 28 days. All heifers were first habituated to electric fencing over a 2-day period prior to moving to pasture, and then given a further 5 days to acclimatize to their pasture. Following this, VF heifers entered a 7-day virtual fence training period. They were then managed for the remaining 2 weeks of the study using a front and rear virtual fence while the EF heifers were similarly managed using electric fence wires. Measurements included weekly faecal cortisol metabolites (FCM), liveweight gain (LWG), and VF data (audio cues and electric pulses). The study found that VF was capable of maintaining the heifers within their allocated area. Heifers learned to correctly respond to the audio cue after an initial learning period, with some variation between animals. Mean FCM was similar in EF (18.0 ng/g) and VF (18.38 ng/g; P > 0.05), while LWG did not differ significantly between treatments (P > 0.05). Results suggest that VF can be an effective and welfare-friendly technology for managing grazing dairy heifers.