Virtual cow enclosures

Technology has been developed to allow farmers to confine cattle to a parcel of land without recourse to fences by placing GPS electric collars on the cows which deliver a zap to the animal when they cross a virtual boundary.

The technology has been developed by a Norwegian company, Nofence. The boundaries are drawn by farmers using a smartphone app. They are confined to what is described as “digital pens”. Trials have been conducted at six sites in the UK one of which is at Epping Forest. A countryside rollout is intended.

Nofence app. From Google Play.

The project is being managed by the City Of London Corporation (the authority responsible for Epping Forest) and Natural England, the organisation providing advice on landscapes and the environment to the government.

In Epping Forest the cows have been “de-pastured” and they graze on heathland at Sunshine Plain together with the linked wood-pasture areas of Wake and Rushey Plains. Fencing is more costly and therefore this is a money saving device and computer application. Currently in Epping Forest a more expensive fencing system called Boviguard is used.

This system also uses electric collars but it is based upon a cable laid in or above ground. Clearly that requires a lot more expense in laying the cable. They use tractors to install the wire.

The Nofence system is not only cheaper but more flexible because the boundaries can be changed with ease by the farmer. Also, cattle can be tracked and the application provides immediate notification if animals go beyond the designated boundaries.

The collars are powered by solar panels. There may be animal welfare issues and I would expect some animal advocates to object to the fact that the system is based upon a mild electric shock. At its heart it is a shock collar to train animals and in principle these devices are considered inhumane by some people.