A Northern Territory trial is aiming to encourage cattle to move themselves around a paddock without being mustered by humans.

The Department of Primary Industry (DPI) is trialling a system of self-herding techniques on its Kidman Springs research station, 350 kilometres south-west of Katherine.

Researchers are trying to see if self-herding can be used to encourage a mob of cattle to graze parts of a paddock they wouldn’t normally venture into.

The self-herding system has been developed by New South Wales farmer Bruce Maynard and West Australian agricultural scientist Dr Dean Revell.

Mr Maynard said at its most basic, self-herding was about modifying animal behaviour.

“We can do that in either a positive or negative way,” he said.

“Whenever people are interacting with animals they are having an effect, so it is a positive attitude of taking and using tools to start to get animals to choose what we want them to do, rather than force them to do things we want them to do.”

An increasing number of cattle stations in the largely undeveloped north are installing more watering points and fences to allow cattle to be run more intensively and better utilise pasture that would otherwise not be eaten in a larger paddock.

DPI rangeland program manager Dionne Walsh said the trail aimed to see if self-herding could be used to replicate the benefits of such infrastructure development.

“Self-herding is potentially a technique for people to use without having to put in a lot of expensive infrastructure in order to do things like better pasture utilisation,” she said.

Cows at the self-herding trial’s attractant station.
ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald

How does self-herding work?

To test the self-herding techniques the department chose around 60 heifers who had not been previously exposed to the trial paddock.

Ten of the cattle were fitted with GPS collars so researchers could track their movements.

The cattle were then encouraged to move around the paddock through what is known as an attractant station — a mobile site of foods the cattle like to eat.

A series of tubs at the attractant station were filled with either commercial lick, salt, charcoal, lucerne chaff or molasses, which are then moved about the paddock at irregular intervals by Kidman Springs staff.

Kidman Springs manager Spud Thomas said the cattle were able to find the attractant station by visual and aural cues, which included witches hats and a wind chime made out of an old fire-extinguisher.

“The idea is to have a visual, so the cattle can be walking through the paddock and then they will see a witches hat and go ‘oh hello, there might be something yummy over there,'” he said.

“The ex fire-extinguisher is a noise, a different sort of a wind chime, so if they are walking through the paddock and hear it dinging in the wind they know where the attractant station is.

“Those sort of cues are there to focus the cattle into an area.”

The movement of the attractant station around the paddock makes the cattle adjust their usual routine of visiting the watering point then their regular feeding spots.

Originally Published by ABC News, continue reading here.