Electric fences for cattle have long been a method to keep livestock within certain boundaries. But as the farming industry develops in the 21st century, so do the technological advancements changing how you farm.
Virtual fencing is one of these developments. In this blog, we look at electric fencing vs virtual fencing, as well as the pros and cons for each, so you can identify the best method for your farm.
Electric fencing is a more flexible alternative to traditional barbed wire fencing.
Powered by an energiser and often battery-powered, electric fencing is comprised of a metal wire that conducts the electrical current from the energiser. When an animal comes into contact with the wire, it closes the circuit, delivering a light shock, which isn’t harmful to the animal.
There have been advancements in electric fencing technology in recent years, including solar power sources and mains powered fencing.
Although an electric fence is a physical barrier, there are also psychological impacts — livestock know not to cross the fence as it delivers a shock, keeping herds inside a specific boundary.
- Effective - Electric fences have been used on farms for many years. They provide a physical barrier, meaning you can rest assured that your cattle remain where you intend them to be.
- Easy to use - This fencing is easy to install, requires little maintenance and is long-lasting.
- Flexibility - The electrical wire, posts and energiser can be moved and reused, meaning you can change the grazing boundaries as you see fit.
- Affordable - Electric fencing is one of the more affordable options, as few materials are required to erect the boundary fence.
- Safe for livestock - Although the electric current delivers a shock, it’s only a minor pulse and is much safer than barbed wire, which can damage cattle’s skin or udders.
- Regular checks - Although electric fences provide an adequate physical boundary, they still require regular checks to ensure there are no gaps, damages or power outages.
- Power outages - Power outages can be common, which reduces the effectiveness of electric fences.
- Adequate warning signs - As the fence delivers an electrical current to humans and animals, the proper warning signs will need to be implemented. This is even more crucial if the fence is near a public footpath.
- Welfare issues - Although the shock is minor, it still presents questions surrounding welfare.
Virtual fences provide boundaries without physical barriers. Virtual fencing technology combines GPS signals, cellular communication, audio signals and sensors managed through an app on your phone.
The GPS allows you to set virtual pasture boundaries without needing physical fencing. When an animal goes too close or beyond the boundary, livestock sensors (usually in the form of collars) deliver a two-stage warning. An audio signal will first be transmitted and if the animal doesn’t respond, a light pulse will be delivered through the sensor. This shock is usually much milder than that delivered by traditional electric fencing.
- Improved pasture management - Manage grazing and pasture boundaries quickly and easily, all through your phone.
- Enhance labour efficiency - There’s no need to install and maintain physical fences, which takes up your time and resources. Instead, you can easily manage boundaries and cattle location through the app.
- Monitor your herd from anywhere - It doesn’t matter where you are, you can keep an eye on your herd through the GPS signals and livestock sensors that transmit data to the app.
- Public footway boundaries are not an issue - Similarly to the above, as there are no physical fences, they’re unlikely to conflict with public footpaths or neighbouring fields.
- Safer for livestock - Instead of instantly delivering an electric shock, virtual fence sensors first issue an audio warning before delivering a shock that’s much gentler than an electric fence — often up to 2% of the equivalent.
- Connectivity issues - No technology is perfect, particularly in rural areas. Virtual fences rely on connectivity and having a signal to be able to access the app.
- Welfare issues - Although virtual fencing is one of the most humane options, it still administers a slight shock as the last resort.
- No physical boundary - Although your cattle may get used to the boundary, it’s not 100% guaranteed that they won’t go beyond it. On top of that, it doesn’t stop predators or the general public from entering your fields.
- Adaption time - Cattle will eventually adapt to the boundaries and know the warning signs, but this does take some time.
Which is best?
There are benefits and drawbacks to each option. Ultimately, it’s about what works best for you and your farm.
Electric fencing may be the cheaper option that offers more physical protection. However, virtual fencing can save you time that can be better spent elsewhere by virtually monitoring cattle movement.
If you’re looking to increase the productivity of your farm and the efficiency of your labour, it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons, as well as deciding which will be the most economical option for your farm.
Maximise the productivity and profitability of your farm
Productivity and efficiency directly affect the profitability of your farm. We have all the resources you need to find out about maximising your resources, investing in the right technology and enhancing your farm’s revenue. To find out more, head over to our profitability page.
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