Dairy Australia - Dairy information for Australian Dairy Farmers and the industry

Primary content

Read about the Virtual herding program and the implementation of virtual herding technologies on Australian dairy farms.

Virtual Herding Program

A major project has been established under the Commonwealth Rural R&D for Profit programme, to undertake research and development of the implementation of virtual herding technology across the major livestock industries in Australia.

Overview of the project

The Australian Government's Rural Research and Development (R&D) for Profit programme is a $200 million competitive grants program with funding available over eight financial years (2014/2015 to 2021/2022).

The project, 'Enhancing the profitability and productivity of livestock farming through virtual herding technology', was funded from 1 July, 2016 by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, through the second round of submissions to the Rural R&D for Profit programme. The four year project is a partnership between CSIRO, University of Sydney, University of New England, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, The University of Melbourne, and Agersens Pty Ltd, and involves the dairy, beef, wool and pork industries and their respective RDC's; Dairy Australia, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and Australian Pork Limited.

Fact sheet 1 - Overall project (PDF, 262KB)

Subprogram 1: Optimising the animal response to virtual herding technology (PDF, 204KB)

Subprogram 2: Optimising livestock and pasture management for intensive dairy and beef through more controlled pasture allocation (PDF, 274KB)

Subprogram 3: Determine best sub-herd and individual animal management for dairy and beef production systems (PDF, 302 KB)

Subprogram 4: Using virtual herding technology to better manage sheep (PDF, 201 KB)

Subprogram 5: Challenges for integration and adoption of virtual herding (PDF, 214KB)

Research Activities

There are five main subprograms within this Project. The project aims to evaluate the on-farm application of virtual herding (VH) technology, demonstrate its implementation, and quantify and extend its benefits across the major livestock industries in Australia. The project will investigate the behaviour of different livestock (dairy cows, beef cattle and sheep) in response to VH cues and controls. The studies will examine the potential to constrain animals to certain areas (better grazing management and environmental outcomes), autonomously herd animals, or moving individual or groups of animals in a herd differently to the rest of that herd. Fundamental research involving behavioural observations and physiological measurements will be critical to ensure that the VH technology does not compromise the welfare of animals. This project will also develop an understanding of the learning, management and ethical challenges faced by farmers that may implement VH on their farms.

Subprogram 1: Optimising the animal response to VH technology.

Subprogram 2: Using VH technology to improve pasture utilisation.

Subprogram 3: Using VH technology to manage individual animals in a herd.

Subprogram 4: Using VH technology to better manage sheep.

Subprogram 5: Challenges for integration and adoption of VH.

You can find more information on each of the Subprograms page.

Project Groups

Project Team

The principal investigators for this Project are:

Richard Rawnsley, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Burnie, Tas.
Megan Verdon, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Burnie, Tas.
Caroline Lee, CSIRO, Armidale, NSW
David Henry, CSIRO, Werribee, Vic.
Dana Campbell, CSIRO, Armidale, NSW
Cameron Clark, University of Sydney, Camden, NSW
Sabrina Lomax, University of Sydney, Camden, NSW
Ruth Nettle, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic.
David Lamb, University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Danila Marini, University of New England, Armidale, NSW
Sally Haynes, Agersens Pty Ltd, Melbourne, Vic.
Nikki Reichelt, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic.

Project Steering Committee

Steering Committee for Virtual Herding Project - Terms of Reference (PDF, 762KB)


Cathy Phelps, Program Manager, Dairy Australia

Email: cphelps@dairyaustralia.com.au

Tel: 0439 555 001

Ray King, Project Manager

Email: r.h.king@bigpond.net.au

Tel: 0412 322 047

  • Copy Link Links


    Agersens Pty Ltd

    Agersens are providing some in-kind support to this Rural R&D for Profit project. The virtual herding technology was first developed by the CSIRO more than 10 years ago and now they have licensed the commercial patents to Agersens Pty Ltd who have begun testing the first commercial prototypes for use in the commercial livestock production as well as in this Project.

    Website: https://agersens.com/

    Rural R&D for Profit Programme

    The Rural Research and Development (R&D) programme boosts funding to the rural research and development organisations (RDCs) for nationally coordinated strategic research that delivers real outcomes for Australian producers. The total funding available for the programme is $190.5 million over eight years, ending on 30 June 2022.

    Website: http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/innovation/rural-research-development-for-profit

  • Copy Link News


    Sabrina Lomax interview (external site)

    Sabrina Lomax from the University of Sydney was interviewed in August, 2017 by the ABC Rural about her work in the Virtual Herding Project.

    Virtual fencing and precision agriculture in the livestock industries (PDF, 4MB)

    Dr Nigel Tomkins from Meat and Livestock Australia presented an overview of the potential for Precision Agriculture in Livestock Systems, including virtual herding technology, at the West Australian Livestock Research Council Forum at Esperence, WA on Wednesday 14th June, 2017. 

    Virtual Herding Technology - Future Fenceless Farming (PDF, 55MB)

    Dr Sabrina Lomax from University of Sydney presented her recent results from the Virtual Herding project at the DairySA Innovation Day held at The Barn near Mt Gambier on Thursday 8th June, 2017.

    Virtual fencing presentation by Dave Henry (PDF, 3.1MB)

    Paper presented by Dr Dave Henry at the Australia Dairy Conference held on the 14th to 16th of February 2017 in Adelaide.

    Agersens receives $640,000 Australian Government Grant (external site)

    Agersens Pty Ltd, who are a R&D partner in the Project, were awarded an Accelerating Commercialisation Grant of $640,000 from the Federal Government in February 2017 to support the further development of VH technology.

  • Copy Link Publications



    February 2018 Virtual herding Newsletter no. 3 (PDF, 380KB)

    September 2017 Virtual herding Newsletter no. 2 (PDF, 859KB)

    May 2017 Virtual herding newsletter (PDF, 298KB)

    Fact Sheets

    Fact sheet 1 - Overall project (PDF, 272KB)

    Explains why the Virtual Herding project is being undertaken, the main partners, and how the research is being done.

    News and Media releases

    Virtual fencing may herald tactical grazing (external site)

    Potential of virtual fencing for the mixed grain/livestock industries is explored in this article from the GRDC Ground Cover magazine.

    Tassie Dairy News, March, 2017, Page 1 - Virtual herding technology could be way of the future for dairy industry
    (external site)  

    Dairy cow studies investigating virtual herding technology have begun the TIA Dairy Research facility at Elliot in Tasmania  

    Tassie Dairy News, September, 2016, Page 3 (external site)

    The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is a major partner in a new national multi-million dollar project
    that will optimise and evaluate the use of virtual herding technology.

    GPS cattle collars for virtual fencing expected to be commercially available in mid-2017 (external site)

    Article from AgCatalyst Conference reported by ABC 

    Conference/Seminar presentations

    Coming soon.

    Scientific publications

    Coming soon.

  • Copy Link Subprograms


    Subprogram 1: Optimising the animal response to virtual herding technology.

    CSIRO will conduct controlled experiments to:

    • Determine how cattle respond to moving and complex virtual fences.
    • Optimise be the cues and controls necessary for the most efficient operation of VH technology to restrict animals.
    • Determine how to encourage cattle to move from one location to another using VH technology.
    • Determine the capacity to control individual animals within herds.
    • Document the welfare assessment of the application of VH technology in cattle.

    Subprogram 2: Determine best livestock and pasture management for intensive dairy and beef through more controlled pasture allocation

    Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture will conduct field studies to:

    • Quantify how VH may be applied to increase pasture utilisation through more regular and more tightly controlled stock movements.
    • Quantify how VH can be applied to face management of forage crops.
    • Quantify how VH can be applied to rotational grazing on heifer rearing blocks.
    • Quantify how VH can be applied to modifying paddock layout through non-linear and moving VH fencelines, for the dairy and beef industries.
    • Establish and document agreed protocols for use of VF to increase pasture utilisation through more controlled pasture and forage allocation.

    Subprogram 3: Determine best sub-herd and individual animal management for dairy and beef.

    University of Sydney will conduct field experiments to:

    • Quantify how VH cues can be customised and used to control individual cow movement within a herd to improve animal performance and welfare.
    • Determine how VH can be applied to control individual or sub-herd cattle location and movement.
    • Enhance cow movement to and from the dairy within automatic and conventional milking systems.
    • Optimise the VH system to control cattle location and movement in specific situations to optimise individual feeding and to restrict cattle from environmentally sensitive areas for dairy and beef systems.

    Subprogram 4: Identify opportunities for labour savings through the application of VH in sheep wool and meat enterprises.

    CSIRO and University of New England will conduct fundamental research to:

    • Determine the appropriate level and duration of electrical stimulation and audio cues to sheep to enable sufficient control.
    • Determine the individual variation and group dynamics in sheep subjected to VH technology.
    • Determine the effectiveness of VH technology to restrict movement of sheep to improve pasture utilisation.
    • Determine the effectiveness of VH technology to encourage movement of sheep in practices such as mustering.
    • Define and document the adoption pathway(s) for implementation of VH technology in the livestock industries.

    Subprogram 5: Identify considerations and challenges for integration and adoption of VH.

    The University of Melbourne will conduct workshops and case studies to:

    • Identify key considerations for adoption of VH technology for the farmer and advisor sectors of each of the livestock industries.
    • Identify challenges for integration on-farm, to assess costs and benefits and the value of on-farm VH technology to different stakeholders.
    • Develop a coordinated plan across the livestock industries to realise benefits and address identified challenges.

Major Initiatives

Focus Farms

Dairy Australia has established a network of Focus Farms to support farmer decision making. Find out how Focus Farms looks at the factors impacting decisions at any point in time, including seasonal and market conditions.


DataGene is an independent and industry-owned organisation responsible for driving genetic gain and herd improvement in the Australian dairy industry and is an initiative of Dairy Australia and industry.

More Initiatives