Country diary: Slowly bringing tech into these hills
Tebay, Cumbria: I’m a traditional farmer, but I can see the worth in trying electronic collars for our cattle
Today we have an outdoor meeting about how the wood pasture – grazed by cows during the summer months – might benefit from more targeted habitat management. My idea is to use Nofence collars.
These collars, approved by Defra, use GPS technology to create invisible “fencing”, drawn by the farmer on an app on their mobile phone. If a cow gets near the boundary, the collar emits a sound, then a small electric pulse (about 1-2% of the pulse of a normal livestock electric fence), warning it to move away. The cows then learn to avoid the boundary in the first place. The collar also sends the farmer an alert if a cow escapes or has not moved for a while, which can suggest it is in trouble.
One of the main benefits is that I’d be able to see where the cows were before I set off to check on them daily, saving hours each week looking for them. It would also help keep the cows in certain areas, away from walkers and in the parts where bracken needs bashing. And it could mean that when fencing comes down, it may not need to be replaced, leaving the landscape looking more natural. I’m a traditional farmer, and technology comes slowly to the hills, but after some initial hesitation, I can see this could be a game changer for us.
The meeting is productive, and I hope to get grant funding for the collars. As we edge our way along the valley, it’s hard to imagine that it will soon bursting with spring life. We arrive back in the farmyard; the cows hear us and call for more hay to be forked up for them to eat. As I break open the bale, the air is filled with the smell of summer meadows and promises of days to come.