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Virtual fencing transforms South Canterbury dairy grazing operation

Thursday, 15 February, 2024

eShepherd on Farm

For South Canterbury dairy graziers Nigel and Gina Gardner spending hours moving break fences every day is a thing of the past thanks to Gallagher’s virtual fencing solution, eShepherd™.

The couple operates an intensive grazing operation across 350 hectares, running up to 800 dairy heifers, raising 150 jersey bulls for breeding and maintaining a small herd of 90 beef steers.

Efficient pasture management is at the heart of their operation. They need to effectively manage pasture residuals to keep their grass growing year-round and optimise their grazing to get the best animal growth rates possible for their clients.

“We have more fences than the average grazier because we run our dairy grazers in smaller mobs so we can focus on getting great growth rates for our clients,” says Gina.

“I used to be a dairy farmer, so I know where heifer weights need to be and I don't want to be sending anything back that I'm not happy with,” says Nigel.

However, their approach saw Nigel moving up to 20 break fences a day, so they started searching for a better way. They discovered eShepherd, which they started using on 150 grazing heifers in October 2023.

eShepherd trains cattle to remain within a virtual fencing barrier, which Nigel has set up on his laptop ready to activates from an app on his phone. It allows him to move and contain the livestock anywhere on the farm. The system also provides 24/7 insights and data on animal health and performance.

“It was amazing to see how easily and quickly the cows adapted. The biggest job was actually unpacking all the neckbands, activating each one and getting them turned on. As far as putting them on the animals and getting the virtual fencing working, within half a day, the heifers knew what was going on,” says Nigel.

Pasture is the backbone of the Gardner’s business. While they have had some good seasons recently, Nigel says the seasons are changing and becoming drier, which will present challenges for them.

“How we manage our pasture is key,” says Nigel. “I can't have mobs free-ranging and burning up pasture because then I end up needing a lot more supplement, which can be costly. Home-grown pasture is the most efficient feed, so we need to be smart about how we use it.”

The couple says Gallagher has been with them every step of the way on their eShepherd journey with after-sales advice and support. Nigel and Gina believe eShepherd has transformed part of their operation and given them better work-life balance.

“I'm not out there winding up electric fences or moving electric fences every day,” says Nigel. “In the eShepherd app, I remove, add and create breaks several days in advance and activate them daily or as necessary at the touch of a button. It’s that easy.”

Nigel and Gina wanted to put the system to the test, so Nigel programmed the breaks before they left for a long weekend. Rather than ask his farm manager to shift the mobs he activated the fence movements himself from their holiday location.

“It worked perfectly. I checked with my farm manager and the mobs had moved onto the new breaks no issues at all,” says Nigel.

He says eShepherd has made grass management so much easier.

“Using eShepherd means I can move mobs at any time of the day or night depending on the feed that’s available,” says Nigel.

“While I’m having breakfast, I use my phone to move the two mobs that have eShepherd neckbands. When I'm out moving those that are behind a traditional electric fence, I quickly check on my eShepherd mobs to make sure they have moved themselves and they're happy. Over time as we get used to using the new technology, I won’t feel the need to do that anymore.”

Gina says eShepherd is saving them time and freeing up brain space to be able to oversee their business in a different way.

“We have been away a couple of times since introducing eShepherd and Nigel's been able to see what's happening on farm, even though he's not here. It gives us real peace of mind,” says Gina.

The Gardners can see the potential to share data from eShepherd with heifer owners to reassure them about their animals’ progress while they are off farm for grazing.

After seeing the benefits of eShepherd over the last five months, Nigel and Gina now plan to expand the use of the virtual fencing solution across their operation, as investment allows.

“We’ve had so much positive feedback from our business partners, clients, and the farming community about the results we’re getting with eShepherd,” says Gina. “There is so much potential for technology to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of our farm we would be silly not to consider rolling it out further.”