Reaching for their phones and clicking on a cow-monitoring app is the first early-morning task for Waikato dairy farm managers Petra Burgess and Lauren Randall.
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Lauren Randall (L) and Petra Burgess at the dairy shed Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Instead of a crack-of-dawn quad bike trip following the cows to the milking shed Petra and Lauren are setting up virtual fence lines and checking cow conditions remotely over a cuppa.

It’s a system which has revolutionised the processes on Pete Morgan and Ann Bouma’s 230-hectare dairy farm at Pokuru.

Two years ago the farm signed up for Halter – a system which fits individual cows with solar-powered collars.

The GPS-enabled device allows the cow’s whereabouts and condition to be tracked.

The noise and vibration it emits keep the herd within preset grazing areas.

When Country Life visited, Lauren, who is no stranger to technology, was setting up an area for the older cows to have a pre-milking snack – from the kitchen table.

This would have been too tricky before the farm went hi-tech, says Pete Morgan.

“You’d never go and give the cows another KG or two. It’d be a riot trying to give them a little sliver.”

Farming without a fence 1
Petra and Lauren can remotely shift, virtually fence and monitor the cows’ health, feed and behaviour via an app. Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

He says Lauren and Petra are in the drivers seat and he’s hoping technology like Halter will attract more smart young people into the industry.

While Petra has been dairying for several years, Lauren, her partner, is a newbie in only her second season at Pokuru.

“The closest I had been to farming was horses on a farm in Dorset.”

Working as an event manager for ten years, Lauren was familiar with audio-visual software technology.

“Technology’s not foreign to me but definitely cow technology’s been a bit of a new one for me.”

Farming without a fence 2
A dairy herd makes its way to the milking shed Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Watching the cows quietly turn and amble to milking after they receive the signal via their collars is something Lauren says she’ll never tire of.

Farming without a fence 3
The Halter technology does away with fences and enables farmers to manage the cows’ feed more precisely. Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Petra says things are a bit more chilled than on the previous farm she worked on.

“Because of Halter we’ve got more time to learn, more time to put into the staff, you get to be more involved, whereas at the other place you were chasing your tail, doing one job after another trying to keep up.”

There’s also more time to plant trees and scratch the dog, she laughs.

The cows are also more relaxed, Petra says, coming into milking in their natural pecking order and getting any potential health issues picked up early.

Since investing in the new herding technology, the farm has seen a 10 percent increase in milk production, Pete says.

Staff hours have been reduced by 15 percent, stock losses have halved and the management of mating is significantly easier.

Oh … and Lewis, the fox terrier, has put on a bit more weight not following the cows into milking, Lauren says.

Farming without a fence 4
A fox terrier watches the afternoon milking on a Waikato dairy farm Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

Bega’s Better Farms Program supports eligible dairy farmers’ by offering up to $1.1 million worth of financial grants each year.

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