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Jam Lady

Sheep Mowing Grass

A charming article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/26/nyregion/sheep-are-given-room-to-roam-and-in-return-they-manage-the-land.html?ref=nyregion
Hairyloon

If you fit a sheep (or other appropriate herbivore) with an electronic collar containing an accurate positioning system and an appropriate means of reprimanding the sheep, then you could let it loose and it should graze only where it is supposed to graze: it could mow the lawns and trim the shrubbery...
Mutton

Speaking as someone pleased with effective moorland management by our own Soay sheep
1. You need fences to make them eat less favoured parts of your land.
2. It isn't just about position. Its about moving on. If a bush is particularly tasty they will eat the entire thing.
3. Reprimanding sheep? Hhm. Not going to work. Rewarding, yes (sort of) but you have to be very, very careful what they learn from you. Its not so much you teach them things as they learn stuff - and the two are not the same. As the article says, you have to work out how to make "the flow" (as in go with the flow) go where you want it to. Working against their nature, forget it.

Incidentally, google hefted flock. There are flocks on open moorland that keep to the farmer's land without fences - generations of breeding and natural territorial instinct.
Hairyloon

2. It isn't just about position. Its about moving on. If a bush is particularly tasty they will eat the entire thing.

If your position sensor is accurate enough, then it would only be allowed to go so far. You'd probably need 2 or 3 RF beacons to triangulate from.
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3. Reprimanding sheep? Hhm. Not going to work.

I'm thinking an audio warning backed up by a mild electric shock...
Spruengli


I'm thinking an audio warning backed up by a mild electric shock...


I believe wool is a good insulator Confused
Mutton

@Hairyloon
2
Erm - you want them to trim a bush. So the bush is inside the area they are allowed to graze. Unless you have some extremely sophisticated monitoring and timing, and have calibrated this to the exact speed of the sheep eating, then you will get savaged bushes. And there is no guarantee they will just eat the new shoots to trim it - they will also eat bark.

3
Apart from my objections to tying something around a sheep that would beep at it and shock it, still not going to do much good. First off, the sheep has to understand that it is supposed to move on when the noise and shock happens - not guaranteed. Secondly I've had sheep get where we don't want them, they know they shouldn't be there, but even if you run at them shouting to move them on, they stay there yanking off bits of plant to the last possible moment, all body language saying "I know I shouldn't be doing this but I'm going to munch this delicious stuff until the last possible moment". They are not peacefully grazing, they are definitely stuffing in as much as they can as fast as they can. What works far better is to get nice tasty sheep nuts and lure them to run towards you, out through the gate and get it shut behind them.

Serious question - do you keep sheep?
Hairyloon


I'm thinking an audio warning backed up by a mild electric shock...

I believe wool is a good insulator Confused
I believe you are right, but I should think there is a way to fit an electrode such that it penetrates the wool.

Erm - you want them to trim a bush. So the bush is inside the area they are allowed to graze.
No, you define the area so that the correctly sized bush is outside of the grazeable area: any of the bush that grows beyond that can get eaten.
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Unless you have some extremely sophisticated monitoring and timing, and have calibrated this to the exact speed of the sheep eating, then you will get savaged bushes.

No, you just need to accurately know where the sheep's head is.
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3
Apart from my objections to tying something around a sheep that would beep at it and shock it, still not going to do much good. First off, the sheep has to understand that it is supposed to move on when the noise and shock happens - not guaranteed.

I am quite willing to accept that I have underestimated the stupidity of sheep: I'd guessed they are slightly smarter than the average Daily Mail reader?
Even they can learn to not touch an electric fence.
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Serious question - do you keep sheep?

No. I thought goats when I originally had the idea... I don't keep them either. Wink
Rob R

If you fit a sheep (or other appropriate herbivore) with an electronic collar containing an accurate positioning system and an appropriate means of reprimanding the sheep, then you could let it loose and it should graze only where it is supposed to graze: it could mow the lawns and trim the shrubbery...

How would you stop it eating in a particular spot after the allotted amount of time? Assuming it was programmed not to return to grazed areas then you would end up with lines that the animal couldn't cross with ungrazed bits beyond them and very confused animals that would not move through fear with no visual cues.

By far & away the best thing to do is to pay a human being with the ability to recognise the correct level of grazing, and a sick sheep, when they see it.
Hairyloon

If you fit a sheep (or other appropriate herbivore) with an electronic collar containing an accurate positioning system and an appropriate means of reprimanding the sheep, then you could let it loose and it should graze only where it is supposed to graze: it could mow the lawns and trim the shrubbery...

How would you stop it eating in a particular spot after the allotted amount of time? Assuming it was programmed not to return to grazed areas then you would end up with lines that the animal couldn't cross with ungrazed bits beyond them and very confused animals that would not move through fear with no visual cues.
Oh ye of little faith. Rolling Eyes

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By far & away the best thing to do is to pay a human being with the ability to recognise the correct level of grazing, and a sick sheep, when they see it.

It was not intended to be a completely independent, autonomous system. The idea was more for gardening than for land management.
Bodger

I'm buying a load of geese in as goslings to do the job next spring. Mutton

Sheep are not universally stupid, they just have a non-human set of priorities. Now some individuals are dimmer than others, but my experience of Soay is they have plenty of cunning.
People who try and force them to act against their usual behaviour call them stupid. Its what the article said. You have to work with them.
Your idea just doesn't fly Hairyloon.
Hairyloon

Sheep are not universally stupid, they just have a non-human set of priorities.
Do they not share a desire to avoid hurt?
You cannot say the idea will not work because sheep are too stupid to learn to not ignore a warning and at the same time claim they are not stupid.
Ty Gwyn

Whatever the Weather,the Wether will do whatever he wants,Whether you want him to or not. Tavascarow

I use flexinet on a fold system. Works a treat with small numbers as long as they are used to confinement. Wouldn't work with sheep used to ranging though. Cathryn

I'm buying a load of geese in as goslings to do the job next spring.

Guinea fowl here.
Mutton

Sheep are not universally stupid, they just have a non-human set of priorities.
Do they not share a desire to avoid hurt?
You cannot say the idea will not work because sheep are too stupid to learn to not ignore a warning and at the same time claim they are not stupid.

It is your interpretation that I was saying they were stupid. I said they thought in a different way. (Which the article does too - did you read it?) I am not convinced that they would understand a collar around their neck going beep, followed by an electric shock as being "don't eat the thing you are eating". If they stick their nose against an electric fence and get a shock they will back up. If they get a beep or a shock from a collar (I am assuming you are talking about a collar, you haven't specified) then it is entirely possibly they would leap forward, away from the threat. At which point they would be in the no go zone and would continue to be shocked, and might even continue forwards - crashing through your shrubbery, getting ever more panicked.
I was also making the point regarding noise, that me shouting at them and chasing them off a bush I don't want them to eat, doesn't result in instant obedience. They understand I don't want them there, but they want to eat the bush and do so until the last moment when I am a really big threat.


Anyway - geese - our geese do a very nice job of trimming the grass - but they do also like nibbling on bushes, beaking the gate bars, beaking the plastic handles of a large gorilla tub until it was worn to nothing and neighbours geese beaked through the electric cable for the rear lights on his trailer.
Hairyloon

I am not convinced that they would understand a collar around their neck going beep, followed by an electric shock as being "don't eat the thing you are eating".
That is not how it work.
Consider an imaginary line dividing the world into space that the sheep can graze in and space that it is not allowed in.
If a sheep approaches the line, then the device will beep*, if it keeps getting closer, then will beep more urgently, followed ultimately by a shock if they cross the line.
{*doesn't have to be a beep: could be any noise you fancy. I imagine a bark or a growl may be more effective}

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If they stick their nose against an electric fence and get a shock they will back up. If they get a beep or a shock from a collar (I am assuming you are talking about a collar, you haven't specified) then it is entirely possibly they would leap forward, away from the threat.

A collar was what I had in mind, but it could be anything that you can fit on a sheep. Can you get a sheep to wear something on its nose?
I will of course defer to your expertise on sheep behaviour, but I would expect any animal to stop moving forward if moving forward causes discomfort.
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At which point they would be in the no go zone and would continue to be shocked, and might even continue forwards - crashing through your shrubbery, getting ever more panicked.

I would suggest that the device be programmed to stop operating while the animal appears panicked, for example if it is moving fast or erratically. If you are really keen, it should not be too hard to have it measure the pulse rate.
Once the animal has calmed down, the device should be able to steer it back to where it is supposed to be.
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I was also making the point regarding noise, that me shouting at them and chasing them off a bush I don't want them to eat, doesn't result in instant obedience. They understand I don't want them there, but they want to eat the bush and do so until the last moment when I am a really big threat.

Ok, so they do not respond to a noise which they have learned does not present an immediate threat.
Does that mean that they won't respond to noise?
Or that they cannot learn to associate a noise with an imminent hazard?
Mutton


A collar was what I had in mind, but it could be anything that you can fit on a sheep. Can you get a sheep to wear something on its nose?
I will of course defer to your expertise on sheep behaviour, but I would expect any animal to stop moving forward if moving forward causes discomfort.

Some sheep can be trained to wear a halter for the show ring, I've not tried, I understand it doesn't come naturally to have something over the nose and some breeds handle it better than others - there are also some designs of show halter with no noseband. You were talking about an electric shock - from a collar that would be into the neck. The animal might leap sideways, but it is likely to leap forwards as that is the get away from the predator reflex, since they are seeing nothing threatening in front of them. Likewise the noise would be behind the ear from a collar. There is nothing obvious to them to say "go backwards" - and they go a lot faster forwards than backwards and if they are trying to get away from something unpleasant, they will do so as fast as possible - so forwards.

I would suggest that the device be programmed to stop operating while the animal appears panicked, for example if it is moving fast or erratically. If you are really keen, it should not be too hard to have it measure the pulse rate.
Once the animal has calmed down, the device should be able to steer it back to where it is supposed to be.

How?


Ok, so they do not respond to a noise which they have learned does not present an immediate threat.
Does that mean that they won't respond to noise?
Or that they cannot learn to associate a noise with an imminent hazard?

I do know that if I call out they will come running for food. I know that if they see a food bag as well as me calling they will come twice as fast. They also associate food with the sound of the gate opening and will turn up for that.
Unless of course it is really hot and they are in the shade of a bush and can't be arsed, or it is tipping it down and they are in a dry sheep shelter, or I have just let them into a new field with lots of lush grass which is far better than any blinking sheep nuts so they won't bother.

I do not know about association of noise with nothing visible because have no experience. They certainly don't like something running towards them making a noise, they are not keen on a person yelling crossly and waving their arms - but an abstract noise with no visible hazard, no idea.

There are some other problems with your idea. If you are giving an electric shock from this collar, the battery would need to be more than a couple of AA I'd think - so you'd have a heavy lump attached to a sheep. Also they rub themselves on things to get rid of itches and annoying things. So the device, and the collar, would also have to be robust enough to deal with the sheep's attempts to get rid of it - which would make it heavier. They might well learn to associate the collar itself with pain or at least the discomfort, particularly if there is a collar (which could be itchy) and a weight permanently there.
There is the hazard that in trying to rub off the collar they will get caught up on something and stuck there, unable to eat or drink and vulnerable to having their eyes pecked by crows.

Bear in mind also, a sheep does not live to please you. Unlike a dog, it gets no emotional reward from doing something that you want it to. My sheep are friendly and curious and nosy and come to see what we are doing and stay to watch if it is interesting. They will wander up to see if there any snacks on offer and have a great line in sad spaniel eyes to persuade me to do what they want. When the grass is lusher the other side of the fence and I walk into that field, they all line up to baa at me, and some queue at the gate in the hope I am about to open it. They are also perfectly capable of being p*ssed off that you tricked them into something and will be wary for some days afterwards - so you feed them in a handling area, shut the gate and do a round of injections, forget getting most of them to come in for a good few days after that. And they will all stand just outside the gate and glare at you after the injection before stomping off up the field. And they are a lot less likely to come and see what you are doing for the next day or so when you come into their field.
madcat

Hairy your idea is just plain cruel . You wouldn't get away with sticking such a thing on a human so why do it to an animal. Nick

It's not uncommon to do it to dogs. Rob R

Wireless electric fences, which is essentially what HL is talking about, only more elaborately programmed, already exist for dogs. They are prohibitively expensive to be common though so putting up an electric fence remains both more effective and cheaper for keeping sheep where they should be.

Dogs, however, should have them fitted by law and as soon as the dog goes outside of a set distance from their master, beyond 'close control', the owner should get a shock. That might sort a few straying animals out.
Hairyloon

It's not uncommon to do it to dogs.
They are banned in Wales.

Wireless electric fences, which is essentially what HL is talking about, only more elaborately programmed, already exist for dogs. They are prohibitively expensive to be common though so putting up an electric fence remains both more effective and cheaper for keeping sheep where they should be.

As I said earlier, the idea was intended as a novel approach to garden maintenance, not for widespread livestock control.
Rob R

Guinea pigs work much better in that scenario (having tried both). Their fertilising is more evenly distributed & less offensive, too. Hairyloon

Guinea pigs work much better in that scenario (having tried both).
Not sure we can scale the collars down that small and they'd struggle to prune the shrubbery.
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Their fertilising is more evenly distributed & less offensive, too.

I don't see the point of fertilizing a lawn: surely that just means you have to mow it more often.
Rob R

I don't see the point of lawn, personally. Hairyloon

I don't see the point of lawn, personally.
Handy for grazing guinea pigs I should think.
Not clear what you meant in your earlier post otherwise.
Rob R

We have verges, and paths, but I wouldn't describe them as lawns, the GPs keep them down, though. Mutton


Dogs, however, should have them fitted by law and as soon as the dog goes outside of a set distance from their master, beyond 'close control', the owner should get a shock. That might sort a few straying animals out.

<SFX> - Cheering crowd.</SFX> Woo hoo
Mutton

I don't see the point of lawn, personally.
Handy for grazing guinea pigs I should think.
Not clear what you meant in your earlier post otherwise.

If you are having a lawn and having a nice one, then you need to fertilize it, weed it, and then cut it lots.

I'm not Rob so technically speaking shouldn't be clarifying his post, but I'm not a lawn fan either - I can admire someone else's perfectly kept lawn, but can't be faffed myself. Basically, a lawn is recreational grass which is high maintenance and doesn't feed anything. Fields - feed livestock. Orchards - geese/sheep graze, trees grow, people can sit in there too. Lawn? Yawn.
Nick

But, do you live in a town with young children? Mutton

Yeah, yeah, lawns are also useful safe places for kids to play. (But so would be an area of wood chips or an area of rubber matting. It doesn't have to be grass.)

I am not saying they don't have their uses, I have already said that I can admire a decent one. Its no skin off my nose if someone wants to have a lawn, I'm not stopping them.
However, in the context of a conversation about lawn maintenance by sheep, where someone has said they can't really see the point of lawns, a second person has not understood that, I feel perfectly free to explain why I too am not really enthralled by a lawn - doesn't mean I want to stop anyone having a lawn, just explaining that lawn admiration is not universal.
Hairyloon

However, in the context of a conversation about lawn maintenance by sheep, where someone has said they can't really see the point of lawns, a second person has not understood that...
I was only puzzled to what the guinea pigs were mowing, if not a lawn.
madcat

Rob has the right idea for an electric shock collar for some dog owners. I can think of some to nominate.
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