Australia's first 'virtual fence' for dairy farms launches in Tasmania
Each morning when Tasmanian farmer Duncan Macdonald wakes up and heads to the milking shed, his herd of dairy cows is already there and waiting.
It's a far cry from waking up at 3am, rounding them up in a paddock in the dark, and herding them for an hour.
His cows have been trained using "virtual fencing" collars — a new tool widely used already in New Zealand, but yet to take hold in Australia.
What is virtual fencing?
Virtual fencing is a system that uses smart collars to herd and monitor cattle.
Each animal is given an electric collar that emits sound and vibration cues to tell them where to go, then sends an electric pulse if they ignore the cue.
Controlled by a smartphone app, it gives dairy farmers the ability to remotely move their cows to the milking shed, set up temporary paddocks and monitor cow health — all without setting a foot outside.
Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture senior researcher Dr Megan Verdon has been studying virtual fencing since 2016.
She said the race to introduce the technology has been ticking since its initial conception in the 1980s, followed by a further boost in the early 2000s when the CSIRO commissioned research and development in the area.