Norwegian developers created the world's first virtual fencing system for cattle management. Now farmers can simply collar animals with Nofence, and there is no need to hedge the area: gradually the system will «train» cow or goat to stay within the designated area. Instead of exhausting pursuits one just needs to keep a check on the collar charge. Today collars are marketable mostly in Norway. But as the Nofence founder and Chief Technical Officer, Oscar Hovde Berntsen, has told AGRO.RU, the developers don't deny themselves the possibility of the international expansion.
Nowadays you are the first company in the world, developed a virtual fencing system. Please, could you tell us how it works? For what kinds of animals the system is designed? Is it possible to change the boundaries of the territory, within which the livestock should stay?
That's right, we claim to be the first company in the world to develop a commercially available solution for virtual fencing of grazing animals. The first prototype was successfully tested on a goat in 2009, and was commercially available in Norway in 2017. Today this invention is limited for use on goats, sheep and cattle. Mostly in Norway. We’re quite proud of this :-). But, luckily for the idea, there are competition, Agersens (who also claims to be first :-), Halter and Vence is fully participating in this race towards a new era of keeping livestock.
How it works: the animal that is wearing a Nofence collar will experience a beeping tone scale when walking out of a virtual pasture border. This area is drawn by the user (normally the farmer) using any iOS or Android device. This tone scale is of increasing pitch for some seconds. This results in that the animal turns back to where it came from very gentle and in full control of the technology. That's how it avoids feeling the electric shock from the collar. We call it a zap.
The electric shock feels like an electric fence, commonly used, but is way less powerful. Each electric shock contains 0,1 Joule of energy at 3kv. This is only a fraction of energy compared to conventional fences.
Of course this requires a learning period. We experience that an animal normally needs to feel the shock some times. In average about 5 times. Some of them actually learn from their mothers’ experience, and need no additional training. But anyway we recommend our users to expect two weeks training before the animals is moved to another location. But the user might edit the virtual fence, or even put the animals inside another virtual fence at any time.
Is any training for farmers required in order to use Nofence? Do you help farmers during the usage of the system? Do you have technical support?
Yes, we have phone, email and chat support for our customers.
Could you please tell us more about technical specs, important for proper system operation?
The collar depends on GNSS satellites (GPS, GLONASS, QZSS and GALILEO) to know its position within the virtual fence. And for the farmer to be able to create this boundary for the collar, it also relies on cell coverage. Other than it needs the sun to power the device.
Can a stranger remove a collar in order to kidnap an animal? In this case does the farmer get any notification about the collar removal?
There are some notifications to the user, but limited only to notify on zaps and escapes. If someone kidnaps an animal, they probably leave the collar behind. In that case the farmer will understand that something is wrong, since the animal will appear on the map as left behind, sleeping. Obviously if the kidnapper doesn’t take off the collar it would be easy to find it. :-)
What does the system consist of? How much does a system for the management, for example, of 100 cattle heads cost?
There are two collars, one for cattle and one for sheep and goats. The one for cattle cost €303 and for goat and sheep its price tag is €194. This is the only investment need, but most customers also would like extra batteries for €41 each and battery chargers for €49 (Norway is not that sunny sometimes). In addition, you would have to pay a subscription fee when using the collars. As an example for 100 cattle collar this subscription becomes almost €6000 for a year of use.
You could look the pricing here: preorder.nofence.no
Do you provide collar warranties?
No, not yet. But we develop it to last at least five years with normal use.
Is Nofence already commercially available? How do you estimate the demand? In which countries are you going to sell the system? Do you plan to sell it in Russia?
Nofence is commercially available in Norway, and we have some collars running in Denmark and UK. Next year we will have more focus on how to sell outside of Norway. So it is not possible to promise anything at this stage. The most honest answer I can think of is that our roadmap for international sales will be drawn during next year. The demand the coming four years is estimated to be way bigger than we plan to scale our business the next three years. During this period, the bottleneck for scaling seems to be production cost.
Is there any feedback from users or testers? How quickly do animals get used to it? Have there been any cases of successful returns of lost animals?
Our customers are very happy with the product, and they are amazed about how fast the animals tend to learn. Some of our customers have experienced great loss to traffic earlier years (not using Nofence), compared to none this year (when using Nofence). And some also experience less predator loss because their sheep now are abler to escape and not being restricted by physical fencing. The main issue for our customer is when animals is grazing in very shady environments with bad cell coverage. In these cases, the farmers need to change and charge batteries as often as once a month.
Is it appropriate to say that your system is primarily designed for large farms with huge grazings? What’s an average livestock population of the farms, which use your product?
Norway livestock farming is very different from the rest of the world in terms of farm size. There are almost none big farms in Norway. So our biggest herd is 150 sheep. And for cattle, the biggest herd is 50 dairy cows. Actually very close to the Russian border, far north :-). Our average customer has less that ten collars. Many of them just testing before they invest too much in emerging technology. Which is both understandable and recommended by us.
Does the system work in mountainous areas? How likely is that the efficiency of the system decreases during the cloudy weather?
Norway is absolutely mountainous and cloudy, and it works well here (if cell coverage).
Have you received any support from investors or government during the work on the project? There is a ex-Minister Jon Georg Dale’s quote on your website. Is he familiar with your development?
We have absolutely received a lot of support from the Norwegian government. The reason that our former agri minister supported us especially deeply a couple of years ago, was because we ran into difficulties when trying to test our product while making documentation about animal welfare issues. He actually instructed the animal welfare authorities to help us make this kind of documentation. The government is absolutely supportive to us, and actually promoting Nofence in theexplorer.no. So far Nofence, the company, is funded by employees, angel investors and some government money. At the end of this year we probably also will be venture funded, but that is not certain yet.
Have you received any questions about the application of current discharges to livestock from animal rights activists?
Not much, actually. But this is an issue that we have been focusing on a lot on. This focus led us into working close with Norwegian researchers at NMBU on animal behaviour and animal welfare.
In your opinion, what is the future of such systems in the coming years? How will the competition change?
I think there is no doubt about that virtual fencing of grazing animals will become more or less the standard of keeping livestock during ten-year time. My biggest excitement about this is that it probably will contribute massively to increased animal welfare and also in a positive way in regards of global warming. I think that the reason for ruminant animals to become so successful in the world is their contribution to the earth's photosynthesis. There is only one problem with this; we tend to feed them too much inside a barn, despite their ability walk and find food themselves on pastures. I really hope that Nofence will become a leading star for future, pasture based, farming around the world. But if we become outcompeted, it is because someone else made something better. Anyhow, mother earth becomes the winner when technology is developed alongside common knowledge of nature play roles and photosynthesis.