Fewer physical fences and better grazing management are on the horizon for livestock producers after the virtual fencing technology company Nofence was awarded the 2022 AgriScot Innovation Award.

Established in Norway in 2011 for mountain grazers, Nofence has recently become commercially available to UK livestock producers after more than two years of grazing trials on British beef farms.

Utilising GPS, farmers can create virtual pastures on the Nofence app. Once livestock are turned out on the set virtual pasture while wearing a Nofence collar, GPS and a mobile data network track the animal’s location and report back to the app, triggering the collar to cue an audio signal as the animal nears the virtual fence boundary.

If the animal continues to move forward they will receive an electric pulse. This sequence of audio warnings, followed by a possible pulse, can happen three times. If the animal breaches the virtual boundary following the third audio cue, the farmers receive a pop-up notification via the Nofence app with the location of the animal as classed as escaped. Animals can return to pasture without receiving any audio warnings or pulses.

According to Synne Foss Budal, general manager for Nofence UK, livestock that is trained on the technology utilise their sense of hearing, rather than sight, to remain within a virtually 'fenced' area without physical fencing.

“Data collected from more than 35,000 head of livestock with more than 149m grazing hours, our farm trials and customer feedback has proven the technology to be highly effective. A typical farm will only have one pulse per every 30 audio cues and escapes are rare,” says Ms Budal.

“Nofence is also very diverse in the type of system it is suitable for, working in intensive rotational grazing, upland and conservation platforms.”

The technology was a standout to the AgriScot Innovation Award judging panel who awarded points based on if the innovation saved farmers money or had the capacity to increase profits, says Ken Fletcher, award judge and editor of The Scottish Farmer.

“In the judges’ opinion, Nofence Grazing Technology actually did a bit of both as it could offer reduced capital costs in fencing infrastructure and also allow the freeing up of new grazing opportunities which would benefit farmers’ bottom lines,” says Mr Fletcher.

The judging panel also included John Elliot, a Border’s farmer and industry columnist, and John Elliot, CEO of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland.

“Given farmer users’ feedback, we were satisfied that the system worked well and ‘did what it said on the tin’. We found it particularly interesting that some conservation groups set such store by the benefits of large animal grazing in certain habitats that they were willing to pay for the initial outlay in the technology, which under normal circumstances might be quite onerous,” continues Mr Fletcher.

“In a practical sense, the Nofence technology could play a significant role in regenerative farming practises, such as grazing of arable crops – especially when physical fences are few and far between – and for use in increasingly popular block and strip grazing which targets making the most of grass. Changing the electric fence in strip grazing fields can be a messy and tiring job and was one area where Nofence would work well.”

For Perthshire farmer Andrew Duncan, one of the first UK adopters of the technology, Nofence has been pivotal to improving his grazing programme.

Consisting of 2500 acres of moorland with an elevation range of 200m to over 1000m, knowing where his herd of Luing cattle was, let alone managing grazing, was a challenge.

“The real-time tracking capability of Nofence has significantly cut down on the time required to manage the herd,” explains Mr Duncan.

“But more excitingly, we are now able to graze areas of the farm that have not been touched by livestock in more than 100 years. Not only has this allowed us to make more of our land resource, but we can now actively manage our grazing to deliver wider biodiversity and conservation outcomes.”

According to Ms Budal, Nofence will continue to develop its technology and resources to further help livestock producers get the most out of their grazing platforms and overcome obstacles where physical fencing proved unfeasible.

“The technology will continue to evolve and improve as we collect more data and customer feedback. We’re already so excited about what opportunities Nofence has brought to so many grazers and what lies ahead in the future,” concludes Ms Budal.