Implications of virtual herding for cattle management

Improved cattle management in the rangelands by replacing physical fences with invisible barriers that can be remotely controlled


The WA rangelands are one of the main beef producing hubs in Australia, with very large herds of cattle being managed in a vast landscape. There is significant interest for better monitoring of animals and to direct their grazing patterns towards more adequate/nutritious pasture, without degrading the land and losing biodiversity. There is also a need to contain them away from protected areas, and to be able to move herds quickly in case of emergency, for example, a bushfire.

Virtual Fencing Technology (VFT) is a novel system that enables livestock to be contained or moved without using fixed physical fences. VFT combines the capacity of animals to learn and be trained to react to specific signals (sound and electric) with GPS tracking technology.

Briefly, GPS collars are placed onto the neck of the cattle that are also programmed to receive signals that guide animals away from a virtually drawn fence line. Upon successful training and conditioning, animals will stay within the area without the need to wear collars and apply signals.

Project goals:

  • Test the efficiency of virtual fencing in rangeland conditions
  • Assess the impact of virtual fencing on production and welfare of rangeland cattle
  • Assess the impact of virtual fencing on resource utilization and rangeland health 


The applicant will be required to be part of experiments conducted on a pastoral station in the Pilbara. The candidate will be involved in several aspects of these experiments, depending on the background and the interest of the candidate. 

Some of the activities will include:

  • Investigate if the technology and communication systems work in the rangeland and the logistical challenges of setting collars on cattle
  • How do cattle respond to the signals, the collars and the virtual fencing
  • Investigate the welfare impact of the virtual fencing technology on cattle in rangeland settings
  • Collect and analyze records of all cattle movements within the virtually fenced areas
  • Investigate opportunities in parallel with the experiment to understand implications of the cattle collars for the broader pastoral industry - environmental, productivity and animal welfare benefits
  • Perform a cost/benefit analysis of the methodology
  • Conduct annual field days to demonstrate the technology

Suggested readings


Research team leader: Professor Philip Vercoe

I am an animal scientist who is driven by the need for ‘Clean, Green and Ethical’ production systems and an interest the role of our native Australian plants in grazing systems; I am in the School of Agriculture and Environment at UWA. The main focus of my work is around the interaction between plant secondary compounds and the ruminal microbial community in improving production efficiency and reducing methane emissions. My current interest is in the mosaic feedbase in the northern WA rangelands and the most effective way to manage cattle transitioning across different parts of the mosaic including the production of forage under pivot irrigation, which is a recent development in northern WA. Optimising the transition of animals across the feedbase mosaic and making use of the rich diversity of plant secondary compounds in the native rangelands plants will be essential for improving the resilience of the supply chain and move towards more carbon neutral systems.


Funding and Collaborations

 External Collaborators:

    • Meat & Livestock Australia
    • Pastoralist in Pilbara are sought who are willing to be involved


    • General assistance with animal trial and data collection



How to Apply 

Check criteria
  • To be accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy, an applicant must demonstrate they have sufficient background experience in independent supervised research to successfully complete, and provide evidence of English language proficiency
  • Requirements specific to this project:
    • Degree in Agriculture, Animal Science, Veterinary Science
    • Capable and willing to work with cattle
    • Capable and willing to travel and spend time in remote areas
Submit enquiry to research team leader 
  • Contact the research team leader by submitting an Expression of Interest form via the button below
  • After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, contact to proceed with your application


Scholarships specific to this project
Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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