Trialling the use of tracking technology in extensive grazing systems
Six farmers across Wales are running trials for the use of tracking technology as part of an Operational Group aptly named “Where have ewe moo-ved to?” GPS collars are being used on a percentage of two cattle herds and four sheep flocks for two grazing seasons. The farmers will investigate how this technology can help find solutions to grazing management and even reduce the chance of theft.
The sheep farmers are located in the Brecon Beacons, and share common summer grazing up on the mountain. One of the cattle farmers grazes the Kenfig coastal reserve near Margam, Port Talbot and the other undertakes conservation grazing on land in North Wales. Each setting has its challenges in terms of ensuring animal health and welfare and understanding livestock grazing habits. Locating livestock on each site can be a time consuming process, for regular welfare checks and to gather the animals for health treatments. With a reduction in labour availability in cattle and sheep systems, farmers are looking at alternative ways of ensuring livestock are safe in hard to reach grazing environments. Livestock tracking could be an option for using farm labour more efficiently and keeping livestock in extensive grazing systems in a cost effective way.
Brecon Beacons National Park is a project partner, as is Natural Resources Wales. Both have an interest in helping farmers keep livestock in extensive grazing systems, and do this in a way that is cost effective for the farmer and enhances the environmental characteristics of protected landscapes in Wales.
“Livestock tracking technology is a new concept to extensive grazing animal systems in the UK and this project is the first of its kind here in Wales,” says Ian Rickman one of the project farmers. The tracking system consists of a collar around the animal’s neck containing a single emitting device and a battery. The collars are programmed to send GPS data every 10 minutes and the battery lasts between 1 and 2 years.
The farmers can then access the data through an app on their smartphones. The farmers can see where the animals are located (Latitude, Longitude) and behaviour indicators (grazing, low intensity grazing, lying down). If the level of movement of an animal is unusual alerts are sent via the app to the farmer. This means that the farmers know what their animals are doing, where their animals are in real-time and where their animals graze over a period of time. This could potentially reduce gathering time and costs, minimise the risk of theft, help identify ill animals, and gain a better understanding of grazing habits.
The project will cover two grazing seasons, 2020 and 2021. It will assess what percentage of the flock or herd should wear the collars in order to get useful data. “We aim to make farming smarter” says Ian. Whilst the project is still in its infancy, finding a reliable supplier of equipment was a real challenge, the farmers remain positive and engaged in the project. They are working with a Spanish supplier –Digitanimal- to install and trial the technology in 2020 and 2021.