Virtual fencing brings benefits to Cornish organic beef farm
Using a virtual fence system has given organic beef farmer Lisa Guy the ability to graze and manage a moorland area more effectively. She explains how this new technology is used on her marginal west Cornwall farm.
Lisa Guy has been running Higher Keigwin Organic Farm in West Penwith, Cornwall alongside her husband Piers since 1996. Describing themselves as an organic beef and wildlife farm, the Guys’ approach is based on farming alongside nature to restore wildlife and diversity, while also building resilience.
Farming in a marginal area with moorland and several ancient sites brings unique challenges. “We have been looking for ways to restore the moorland and encourage the unique flora and fauna,” explained Lisa. “This area has been grazed for thousands of years, so we wanted to reintroduce cows as part of a conservation grazing plan. However, we don’t want to limit public access with permanent or electric fencing.”
During a meeting of the Penwith Landscape Partnership, Lisa learned about a virtual fencing solution, consisting of GPS collars and an app to create a virtual boundary. Using the app, virtual fences can be adjusted or moved as needed to manage grazing areas without the need to build and maintain fences. As cows approach the virtual fence they receive an audio warning, followed by an electric pulse if they attempt to move past the boundary.
Lisa’s cows quickly adapted to the system. “After a short training period in a field with physical fences, we moved the cows up onto the moor.”
Prior to turning the cows out onto the moor, Lisa had defined the grazing area on the app and built the virtual fences: “We were able to easily dictate where the cows could access, keeping them away from ancient monuments, areas popular with the public, and busy roads.”
Now more than two years into the trial, Lisa has been impressed by the system. “It took me a few weeks to trust the technology, and not keep checking the cows were still in the right area,” she said. “While there are some occasional small glitches, the technology is improving all the time and we are confident that the system will only keep getting better.”
Using the technology has given Lisa flexibility in her grazing system, allowing her to move cows up onto the moor as and when needed. It has also given her more information about her cows, allowing her to understand behaviour patterns: “It’s been fascinating to see where they spend their time up on the moor. The wide variety of grazing also seems to have a positive impact on herd health.”
Lisa believes that new technologies have huge potential to improve sustainability in agriculture. “Technology could play an important role in helping us farm more effectively with nature, but I believe it is all about using the right technologies for your system and farm. Virtual fencing has given us both the ability to farm our moorland effectively and the chance to restore this diminishing and valuable habitat.”
Find out more about Lisa and Higher Keigwin Organic Farm at https://higherkeigwin.com
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