Invisible Herders

Feb 12 2013 @ 7:31am

Nicola Twilley recently spoke with Dean Anderson, a USDA scientist who believes virtual fencing could radically alter our interactions with herding animals. Anderson paints the scene:

[Y]ou could be driving your property in your air-conditioned truck and you notice a spot that received rain in the recent past and that has a flush of highly nutritious plants that would otherwise be lost. Well, you can get on your laptop, right then and there, and program the polygon that contains your cows to move spatially and temporally over the landscape to this “better location.” Instead of having to build a fence or take the time and manpower to gather your cows, you would simply move the virtual fence.

The method of moving the animals is similar to electronic fences used for dogs today, but calibrated to cows’ sensitive hearing. Anderson argues the technology could be a boon to developing countries:

Maybe with this technology, a third-world farmer could put a better thatched roof on his house or send his kids to school, because he doesn’t need their manual labor down on the farm. It’s fun for a while to be out on a horse watching the cows; what made the West and Hollywood famous were the cowboys singing to their cows. I love that; that’s why I’m in this profession. Still, I’m not a sociologist, but it seems as though you could take some of that labour that is currently used managing livestock in developing countries and all of the time it requires and you could transfer it into things that would enhance human well-being and education.