A recent piece in the Wall Street Journal “Startups Give Livestock Fencing a Jolt – April 8, 2018″ seemed far-fetched, amusing and downright silly. One of the latest technology start-ups is devoted to high-tech collars for cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock to round-up and relocate the animals using electric shocks and audio signals to direct movement. The goal appears to be to eliminate fencing, which in the U.S. “cost $300 million last year,” and to give more control of pastures and animals. Now what could be wrong with that?
Imagine–a virtual fence that the bossies won’t cross because they have been conditioned by electric signals not to. Only critical requirements are a large supply of solar-powered collars (only $155 per collar for each cow, sheep, goat, or whatever,) and an internet or mobile phone connection. The companies producing the collars claim shifting a herd can be as easy as drawing a line on a smart phone app. Really? I can see the protests coming from People for the Ethical Treatment of animals or PETA (known in some parts as People Eating Tasty Animals!)
What is to happen to the cowboys and cowgirls, herders, dogs and even helicopters that are currently employed to gather herds of livestock for branding, pasture relocation and shipping in the fall? I can see it now. Mother cows standing in a virtual corral as their bawling, howling babies are thrown to the ground, vaccinated, castrated, branded and turned loose crying pitifully for their mamas. Same scene come weaning time. Anyone who has spent time with a mother cow separated from her baby will understand what I am getting at. Virtual fencing around the bull pasture? Are they kidding?
My technical know-how simply doesn’t stretch far enough to understand how the annual migration to the Big Horn Mountains will play out. The stock trail is fenced with real barbed wire for a good reason. I challenge some computer geek to keep everybody in line to prevent commingling with other herds long the route. That should take some app!
I am reminded of my dad’s colorful description of our cattle drive to summer pasture when a couple of guys on motorcycles chose an inopportune time to plow through our herd, scattering cows in ten directions. The air turned blue with invective as the day was spent rounding up spooked cows. I doubt very much if a smart phone app would have been much help.
Dad usually managed the drive each year with the help of a lead cow who was his prize assistant (the term “bell cow” must have come from this tradition) and the 60+mile journey up the mountain and back down usually came off without a hitch. I think placing our faith in a smart old lead cow will have a better return than putting electric collars on everyone and expecting some farmer or rancher with five thumbs on each hand to sort it all out.