GPS Collars

 

Project Information: A diverse team of Montana State University researchers in collaboration with private industry consultants will develop a predator mitigation collar for US producers using one of several options. The first option is to continue to try and modify commercially available collars for use in the US. A second option is to modify or improve the capability of GPS technology currently working in the US transportation industry for our purpose. The third option is to develop a system to work in remote areas that lack power and cell coverage using LoRa. This would be a solar powered, custom-built system using off-the-shelf technology adapted to our specifications. Two of these systems would potentially cover a township of Northern Plains terrain or thirty-six sections.

Project Report Annual Report Type: Mid Contract Update Reporting Period: Start Date: July 1, 2020, End Date: November 15, 2022, Extended through November 15, 2023.

Performance Narrative:

Deliverables will consist of:

1) Predator mitigation collar that provides producers with GPS tracking and several alert features using the US cell system by the end of 2023.

2) Predator mitigation collar system that provides tracking and alerts, is solar powered/weather-proof and can be used in remote areas to cover around thirty-six sections by the end of grant.

Deliverable #1:

2021-During the summer, we deployed four of the Digital Matters Yabbie GPS trackers provided to MSU by Ranch Hacks. They were placed on either sheep and LGDís at the MSU Research Ranch at Norris and on two operations south of Great Falls on the Smith River.

2022-After waiting most of year for Ranch Hacks to obtain more Digital Matters Yabbies, Ranch Hacks dropped all customer support for the product and left us without a provider. We then contracted with Lonestar Tracking in June 2022 and purchased 20 Oyster GPS trackers. These larger receivers have a better battery life and range.

  1. a) Missoula Project 1 LGD and 3 yearling ewes were collared out of 1,000 Rambouillet yearling ewes grazing a noxious weed and fuels reduction project

 

  1. by Helle Land and Livestock on the Mount Jumbo and Grant Creek properties owned by the City of Missoula. Collars had good cell coverage during the entire grazing period and regularly updated twice per day.
  2. b) Gravelly Project 15 random, mature Rambouillet ewes with lambs at side were collared out of 1,200 ewes and 1,800 lambs grazing on Forest Service Allotments in the Gravelly Mountains. This is very remote country with no to little cell coverage. Collars did not update until they were removed and brought back into cell coverage. Battery life was adequate to get through the month and half with no cell coverage.
  3. c) Winter Projects 5 collars have already been deployed to Hilger for the winter and the rest will be dispersed with at least 2 more producers who do not employ herders. The producer deployed one collar to monitor a guard dog who was roaming to a neighborís farm.

2023-To test the ease of deployment of the collars, I gave most of the collars out to four producers across the state in the spring of 2023. Only two producers used the collars. Issues encountered were loading and using the mobile app and login procedures for the laptop program.

Deliverable #2: I have purchased 50 tags and LoRa receiver from the Australian company mOOvement. These solar powered ear tags connect to the LoRa receiver by line of sight for up to seven miles. I have had numerous technical difficulties with this system. This is not a plug and play system producers would like and there is no desktop interface to map movement points similar to the Digital Matters platform. We will continue to tweak the system this winter.

2023-After a year of technical issues with getting the mOOvement system operational, mOOvement finally hired a US based consultant and they where able to get the system working with WiFi in the shop, but it was too late for us to deploy the system in the field for summer. We plan on deploying the tags this winter at MAES Red Bluff when the herder returns to Peru for several months. Unsurprisingly, the company has already developed an improved tracking tag.

Final Comments:

Systems tested or explored:

    1. 1. LoneStar Tracking (https://www.lonestartracking.com/livestock-guardian-dog-gps-tracker/) a. System: GPS tracker with accelerometer, water resistant and receiver bolts to a collar, cellular uploads with either AT&T or Verizon SIM cards, 2 Lithium AAA batteries.
    2. b. Comments: Lonestar Tracking is the US industryís best provider of livestock tracking technology at this time. They continue to refine and

 

    1. improve their designs using technology from Digital Matters with input from researchers from many universities. Their Oyster3 has an extended battery life and better connectivity than the old Oyster or the Yabbie. This system allows the user to set a geofence alert. The main issue with the system is it only uploads twice per day to save battery life, so no real-time alerts are possible. You only learn of a potential predation event or if an animal crossed a geofence after the fact. That being said, it is a very study and reliable system for tracking both sheep and guard dogs. They have also recently improved the mobile app functionality. Great customer service.
    2. c. Costs: $150 per receiver and a yearly cell plan for each collar of $150.
    1. 2. mOOvement (https://www.moovement.com.au/) a. System: LoRa based (similar to a powerful WiFi) that can collect GPS locations up to seven miles away in direct line of sight at a gateway. The gateway consists of an antenna that receives information from the tags and sends it to the producers account via a WiFi or cellar link. The ear tags have a solar panel built into them and do not require batteries. A QR code on each tag allows ease of loading the tags into the system.
    2. b. Comments: There are numerous hardware and software components which all must be functioning properly for the system to work. Most producers will not be able to deploy this system without some onsite consultation. Just because you can see the animal does not mean the tag will read. Any grass, brush or trees can block the signal making its deployment on small animals like sheep problematic.
    3. c. Costs: Roughly $6,000 startup and $600 per year contract.
    1. 3. Australian Wool Innovation Smart Tag (https://www.wool.com/on-farm-research/smart-tags/) a. System: Originally this was LoRa system, but they had too many problems with it and switched to a satellite receiver. Solar panel makes it heavy, so need to attach to a collar and then they had issues keeping the tag on the top of the neck to communicate with the satellite.
    2. b. Comments: This was the tag I have been waiting three years for, but with recent massive cuts to Australia Wool Innovationís research budget, they have shelved this project. Conversations with Australian researchers conducting the field trials indicated issues with dogs scratching or rubbing the tags on collars causing malfunctions of the solar panel.

 

    1. c. Cost: NA
    1. 4. Farm Ranger, South Africa (https://farmranger.co.za/) a. System: Battery powered and cell operated.
    2. b. Comments: I had high hopes this system could be adapted to the US, but engineers with the company said this system will not communicate with our cell system due to different software and they were not interested in developing new software. The system has proprietary software built in to give real-time notification on a cell phone if livestock are being attacked or stolen. Iíve talked with several SA producers you use this system successfully.
    3. c. Cost: $115 per unit and $15/month per unit converted from SA Rand.
    1. 5. Spot On (https://spotonfence.com/) a. System: Cell based, waterproof collar for live animal tracking and Geo fencing.
    2. b. Comments: This system only became available in the last year or so. Purchased this system after having issues with a guard dog and a jogger. The system works well locating and keeping dogs inside a designated perimeter but needs to be charged every day. So, one needs to either buy two collars for each dog or only put the collar on for twelve hours each day. Costs should come down on this technology but will probably never be a viable option for sheep.
    3. c. Cost: $1,300 per collar with a one-year cell subscription.
    1. 6. Digit Animal (https://digitanimal.com/?lang=en) a. Comments: Purchased one of these collars built in Spain to demonstrate, never was able to get it to work.