Alexandra Harland | ALES Graduate Seminar

Date(s) - 24/06/2024
8:30 am - 9:30 am
3-18J Agricultural/Forestry Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton

Event details: A graduate exam seminar is a presentation of the student’s final research project for their degree.
This is an ALES MSc Final Exam Seminar by Alexandra Harland. This seminar is open to the general public to attend.

MSc Drs. Edward Bork and Carolyn Fitzsimmons.

Thesis Topic: An examination of virtual fencing as a tool to manage beef heifers and cow-calf pairs in western Canada


This study encompasses the evaluation of Nofence virtual fencing (VF) technology for managing grazing cattle in western Canada, addressing both technical performance and animal behavior. Two key investigations were conducted: one focusing on the technical efficacy of VF collars in varying climatic conditions, and the other exploring cattle behavior and learning within rotational grazing systems. The technical performance study assessed Nofence VF functionality across summer and winter seasons. Key metrics included network connectivity, collar failures, and battery and solar charging performance. The findings indicated robust network connectivity with mean connection intervals well within the expected limits and minimal connectivity issues. Collar failures were infrequent, primarily due to network connection problems and physical loss. Battery performance remained strong, maintaining high charge levels even during winter with limited daylight. These results highlight VF’s potential to reduce fencing costs and enhance grazing management in western Canadian environments, provided reliable cellular network access. The second study examined the training and compliance of heifers and first-calf cows with VF technology during rotational grazing. Heifers learned to comply with VF boundaries within 5-7 days, with a mean ratio of electrical stimuli to audio cues (E:A) of 17.9% (±18.4) during training decreasing to 5.2% (±11.2) during rotational grazing. Cows with calves at side, previously experienced with VF, received an E:A ratio of less than 2.5% during re-training and rotational grazing. All animals were successfully contained by VF boundaries more than 99% of the time. No significant associations were present between number of VF stimuli and animal characteristics and performance. Grazing pressure and stocking rate influenced the number of VF stimuli received and the duration of audio cues. The study concludes that VF technology effectively manages rotational grazing, with cattle demonstrating learning and compliance to VF boundaries. Further research is needed to explore the effects of higher stocking rates, grazing pressure, and intrinsic animal characteristics. Combined, these studies demonstrate the technical viability of VF technology during summer and winter in western Canada and its effectiveness in managing cattle behavior and grazing patterns. VF technology offers significant benefits for cost reduction, management flexibility, and sustainable use of rangelands in the Canadian beef industry, contingent on adequate network connectivity and thoughtful implementation.

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