Spying on cows from space

It’s well known that the grazing habits of cattle differ between night and day, but the Self Herding Project at Kidman Springs, NT, has shed new light on what cattle get up to when we’re not watching!

Through a compilation of hourly GPS collar “pings” over several months, an animation of grazing behaviour has been constructed.

“Through the animation, we could really see the difference between the heifers’ utilisation of the paddock during the day versus the night” said project leader and rangeland scientist, Dr Dionne Walsh. “As expected, they spent a significant amount of time camped up near the water point during the day, and moved out to graze late in the afternoon (Video 1). During the hours of cooler temperature throughout the night, the heifers utilised many parts of the paddock, and certainly sought out the location of the attractant station (as can be seen in Video 2). What we wouldn’t have been able to see with our own eyes, we have been able to capture using GPS collars —the rangeland Self Herding technique certainly influences grazing behaviour.”

The animated compilation of GPS pings also showed the strong effect that the first rains in November had on grazing distribution.

“The area in the far north of the paddock was very under-utilised for the first few months of the trial” Dr Walsh said. “This surprised us a bit because it is a black soil pasture with highly palatable species like curly bluegrass which we expected the heifers would find attractive. But then very suddenly, within a few days of the first decent rains of the wet season, they started using it, and returning there repeatedly over the subsequent weeks.”

When asked about the overall progression of the Self Herding project, Dr Walsh said “The project is on track to demonstrate that using a mobile attractant station can definitely influence grazing behaviour and can be used to direct grazing towards specific areas. We found that concentrating activity around an attractant station over a period of a few days helped to knock down old rank pasture, so we expect that these areas will grow higher quality feed and thus be more attractive after the next wet season.”

For more information about the Self Herding Project including details about the techniques used, the attractant station and contact details of the project leaders, click here: https://futurebeef.com.au/resources/self-herding-kidman-springs/.

Video 1: GPS collar pings of Self Herding Project heifers between the hours of 9 am–3 pm (24 MB).


Video 2: GPS collar pings of Self Herding Project heifers between the hours of 3 pm–9 am (24 MB).