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Project name Enhancing the profitability and productivity of livestock farming through virtual herding technology
Funding bodies Australian Department of Agriculture
Chief Investigators Dr Megan Verdon
Contributors Australian Pork Limited; Australian Wool Innovation Limited; Dairy Australia Limited; Meat and Livestock Australia; University of Melbourne; University of New England; University of Sydney

TIA is leading a subprogram as part of a national project, with a focus on research and development of the implementation of virtual herding technology across the major livestock industries in Australia.

TIA is leading subprogram 2: Optimising livestock and pasture management for intensive dairy and beef through more controlled pasture allocation. As part of this research, the TIA research team led by Dr Megan Verdon will quantify and document how virtual herding (VH) technology can be used in grazing livestock systems to increase pasture utilisation through more regular and/or more tightly controlled stock movement.

VH offers an effective way to increase consumption of home grown feed through better control of grazing, leading to enhanced farm productivity and profitability, without altering the current footprint of these enterprises. This subprogram will apply VH technology in a practical setting, with the overall aim of improving animal and pasture productivity whilst maintaining high animal welfare standards.

Dr Verdon, is conducting trials at TIA’s Dairy Research Facility at Elliott in North-West Tasmania. During 2018, the trials will have a focus on animal behaviour as Dr Verdon, an animal behaviour specialist, investigates how to effectively introduce the technology to animals on a commercial farm to ensure rapid association of the cues with long-term retention.

“Once we know how animals respond and interact with the technology we can then explore how it can sustainably be used to increase dairy farm productivity through more tightly controlled stock movement,” she said.

“The benefits of using virtual herding technology could be quite substantial for farmers. It means farmers could implement more intensive or complex grazing regimes without the increased cost of labour or building the fences, you could fence-off riparian zones or environmentally sensitive areas, and more easily move animals away from waterlogged areas,” Dr Verdon said.

“There’s also opportunity for the technology to support the provision of pasture at a time when animals want to feed which is often at sunset or sunrise. Through this interaction between the timing of pasture provision and how much pasture is provided, we could create an environment that results in increased productivity and better pasture utilisation.”

The project is funded through the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program.  It is a partnership between CSIRO, the University of Sydney, University of New England, the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, the University of Melbourne and Agersens Pty Ltd, with further funding support from the dairy, beef, wool and pork industries and their respective RDCs; Dairy Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and Australian Pork Limited.

Find out more on the Dairy Australia website