Smart technologies for detecting animal welfare status and delivering health remedies for rangeland systems

Rev Sci Tech. 2014 Apr;33(1):181-7. doi: 10.20506/rst.33.1.2274.


Although the emerging field of precision livestock farming (PLF) is predominantly associated with intensive animal production, there is increasing interest in applying smart technologies in extensive rangeland systems. Precision livestock farming technologies bring the possibility of closely monitoring the behaviour, liveweight and other parameters of individual animals in free-ranging systems. 'Virtual fencing', ideally based on positive reinforcement, i.e. rewarding animals for moving in a specified direction, has the potential to gently guide foraging livestock towards areas of vegetation identified by remote sensing. As well as reducing hunger, this could be integrated with weather forecasting to help ensure that animals are automatically directed to areas with appropriate shelter when adverse weather is forecast. The system could also direct animals towards handling facilities when required, reducing the fear and distress associated with being mustered. The integration of the various data collected by such a 'virtual shepherd' system should be able to rapidly detect disease and injury, and sick animals could then be automatically shepherded to an enclosure for treatment. In general, rangeland livestock already have the freedom to express normal behaviour, but PLF technologies could facilitate this. By bringing levels of monitoring and control normally associated with intensive production to rangeland systems, PLF has the potential, with appropriate adoption, to enhance the capacity of rangeland livestock production systems to meet key areas of welfare concern highlighted by the Five Freedoms.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animal Welfare / standards*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Livestock*
  • Ruminants / physiology*
  • Veterinary Medicine / methods*