Tuesday, January 05, 2021

A moo-ving target: fenceless grazing widens possibilities for cows and wildlife

There is something missing from the bucolic upland scene of shaggy, bracken-coloured cattle grazing between young trees on the Cumbrian hillside: fencing.

When the Highland-cross cows reach a certain point, the blue plastic medallion dangling from their necks plays a melody like a mobile phone ringtone. The cow turns around, and the invisible GPS fence has done its job.

Fenceless grazing is being hailed as revolutionary by conservationists and farmers, particularly in beautiful, sensitive or rough upland landscapes that are impractical, expensive or undesirable to fence.

The technology is being embraced by rewilders who want cows to mimic the grazing of extinct wild herbivores such as aurochs and move through wider landscapes in a natural way, ensuring their grazing creates mosaics of habitat and boosts rare flora.

“This is a gamechanger for us,” said Charlie Burrell, of the rewilded Knepp estate, which is keen to embrace the technology. “If we can restrict or move grazing animals through the landscape without fences or wolves, it’s just bloody brilliant. We can use animals as tools to encourage biodiversity and we simply use an app to draw a line around sensitive areas where we don’t want the animals to spend any time.”

...The cows have been fenced away from springs so they won’t pollute the watercourse, and they can even be fenced away from individual wild flowers such as orchids or ground-nesting birds if required.

...The fenceless grazing system was devised by a Norwegian company, Nofence. Landowners simply draw a map on their phone app of the area they want fenced. The solar-powered GPS collars play a melody to alert the animals when they approach the invisible fenceline. If they cross it, the collar administers a small electric pulse, like an electric fence. After a short training session with the collars, the cows swiftly learn to turn away when the melody plays on.

Nofence has delivered collars to landowners grazing cows, sheep and goats in Norway, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and Italy, as well as 25 customers in Britain.


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