Self-herding trial at Kidman Springs enters its second year

Self-herding trial at Kidman Springs enters its second year


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Cattle gather at a wind chime acting as a signal. Picture: NT DPIR.

Cattle gather at a wind chime acting as a signal. Picture: NT DPIR.

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Researchers at Kidman Springs are looking at a bright future as they enter into the second year of a trial which encouraged cattle to graze without fences or the help of human mustering.

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Researchers at Kidman Springs are looking at a bright future as they enter into the second year of a trial which encouraged cattle to graze without fences or the help of human mustering.

On the station in the heart of the Victoria River district, about 350 kilometres from Katherine, the NT Department of Primary Industry was trialing a system of self-herding techniques.

"Self Herding is a livestock management approach that uses positive reinforcement to influence grazing behavior," Dionne Walsh, Rangeland program manager, for DPIR said.

"We tested whether we can attract cattle to use areas that have previously been under-utilised whilst reducing the usage of those areas that have poor land condition."

One year on, DPIR, Rangelands, and self-herding experts have agreed to continue the trial and have decided to add new cattle not previously exposed to self-herding.

This phase of the trial will investigate how the trained self-herders can influence their untrained peers to respond to the signals and attractants.

"To be able to continue the trial for a second year further emphasises the achievements of the first year, and allows us to continue demonstrating innovative methods of grazing to those on Australian Rangeland properties," Jacob Betros, from the Territory Natural Resource Management said.

"The funding received and the partnerships developed helps us to implement further methods which are new to the region, and the cattle are continuing to show signs of learned behaviour transferring from the trained cattle, to the untrained cattle."

Preliminary findings from GPS tracking data showed that in the first few weeks, the trial heifers demonstrated a very strong attraction to the historically overgrazed areas of the paddock, Mr Walsh said.

"We think that they were responding to existing landscape cues such as old cattle pads, shorter patches of previously grazed pastures and freshly graded tracks."

How does self-herding work?

"We are using feed attractants paired with signals to encourage cattle to make choices in response to positive behavioural and/or nutritional feedback," Mr Walsh said.

Mobile "attractant station" marked with a visual and audible cue are set up to manage movements of cattle throughout the paddock.

"The frequency and distance that the attractant station is moved around the paddock is very flexible," Mr Walsh said.

"During busy times, the attractant station can be left for several days before being moved. At other times, the property manager may wish to have more frequent interactions with the cattle to achieve specific management outcomes."

Katherine Times

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