Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Review article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Animal Welfare Implications of Digital Tools for Monitoring and Management of Cattle and Sheep on Pasture

Herlin, Anders; Brunberg, Emma; Hultgren, Jan; Hogberg, Niclas; Rydberg, Anna; Skarin, Anna


Simple SummaryMonitoring the welfare of cattle and sheep in large pastures can be time-consuming, especially if the animals are scattered over large areas in semi-natural pastures. There are several technologies for monitoring animals with wearable or remote equipment for recording physiological or behavioural parameters and trigger alarms when the acquired information deviates from the normal. Automatic equipment allows continuous monitoring and may give more information than manual monitoring. Ear tags with electronic identification can detect visits to specific points. Collars with positioning (GPS) units can assess the animals' movements and habitat selection and, to some extent, their health and welfare. Digitally determined virtual fences, instead of the traditional physical ones, have the potential to keep livestock within a predefined area using audio signals in combination with weak electric shocks, although some individuals may have difficulties in responding as intended, potentially resulting in reduced animal welfare. Remote technology such as drones equipped with cameras can be used to count animals, determine their position and study their behaviour. Drones can also herd and move animals. However, the knowledge of the potential effects on animal welfare of digital technology for monitoring and managing grazing livestock is limited, especially regarding drones and virtual fences.The opportunities for natural animal behaviours in pastures imply animal welfare benefits. Nevertheless, monitoring the animals can be challenging. The use of sensors, cameras, positioning equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles in large pastures has the potential to improve animal welfare surveillance. Directly or indirectly, sensors measure environmental factors together with the behaviour and physiological state of the animal, and deviations can trigger alarms for, e.g., disease, heat stress and imminent calving. Electronic positioning includes Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) for the recording of animals at fixed points. Positioning units (GPS) mounted on collars can determine animal movements over large areas, determine their habitat and, somewhat, health and welfare. In combination with other sensors, such units can give information that helps to evaluate the welfare of free-ranging animals. Drones equipped with cameras can also locate and count the animals, as well as herd them. Digitally defined virtual fences can keep animals within a predefined area without the use of physical barriers, relying on acoustic signals and weak electric shocks. Due to individual variations in learning ability, some individuals may be exposed to numerous electric shocks, which might compromise their welfare. More research and development are required, especially regarding the use of drones and virtual fences.


animal welfare; cattle; monitoring; precision livestock farming; sensor; sheep; virtual fence

Published in

2021, Volume: 11, number: 3, article number: 829
Publisher: MDPI