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Remote-Controlled Cattle

This piece of news isn't directly about food, but I find it fascinating. I mean, I don't run across too many press releases that manage to combine satellites, computers, stereo headsets, and...cows.The USDA's Agricultural Research Service recently licensed a new method of cattle herding, something ...

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This piece of news isn't directly about food, but I find it fascinating. I mean, I don't run across too many press releases that manage to combine satellites, computers, stereo headsets, and...cows.

Photo courtesy of USDA

The USDA's Agricultural Research Service recently licensed a new method of cattle herding, something called a "Directional Virtual Fencing" system, which will monitor and steer the animals as they graze in large, open areas.

Virtual fencing? What's next, cows on Facebook? (Too late.)

The DVF system is the equivalent of a remote control for cattle, basically. It uses GPS technology to keep track of them as they munch and meander, and relays this information to the rancher via computer. A small, solar-powered headset is attached to each animal's ear—so if the critters seem to be straying too far from home or overgrazing a particular patch, the rancher can press a few buttons and send an "auditory signal" to move them elsewhere.

These signals could range from a spoken "Hey, Bessie, get moving!" to a traditional cowboys' gathering song, or a non-human sound like a warning siren.

A Canadian company called Krimar got the license to develop DVF into a commercially viable product. In the meantime, you can watch a test-run conducted on the USDA's research range in New Mexico.

This system seems like a brilliant idea to me, and more humane than shock collars. But it is a bit sad to realize that someday soon, images of the traditional cowboy (already a rare sight) could be replaced by something more like this.
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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