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Looking At GPS Trackers For Guard Dogs
Keeping track of livestock guard dogs (LGDs) has gone high-tech with GPS trackers. Collar units are available in a variety of styles using cell phone services, satellite communications and, more recently, Long Range Wide Area Networks (LoRaWAN) systems. Picking which one is best for an LGD owner can be a challenge, suggests Bill Costanzo, LGD research associate with Texas A&M.
“Key features to consider are battery life, monthly service cost and if it’s waterproof,” says Costanzo. “When we started working with trackers, some lasted only a couple of days, a week at the most. The ones we work with now go from 30 days to 150 to 160 days. They can report on the dog’s location every 15 min., and the battery will last for 5 or 6 months.”
How often a tracker is programmed to report can also affect battery life. That extended battery life is available with LoRaWAN trackers. Relatively new for LGD GPS location, the trackers use repeaters at 4-mile intervals to collect reports and forward them to the LGD owner. If traditional power isn’t available, the repeater may be powered by a solar array.
“Tracker features are also important,” says Costanzo. “Some are pretty advanced. They can tell you how fast a dog is traveling; some can tell the dog’s temperature. That can be important with a young dog that chases livestock. You need to know when it happens and correct it.”
Monthly service fees are important, he adds. However, actual service may be even more important. “Is there an operator you can talk to? If so, are they available 7 days a week or less? Are they open 24 hours a day or 8 to 5? Some offer only online chats or email responses. See what you are paying for,” says Costanzo.
Another key feature to consider is how it communicates with the LGD owner. “Does it use cellular or satellite service to communicate with the LGD owner?” asks Costanzo. “This can affect battery life, but also may also limit options.”
In the case of cellular service, Costanzo recommends asking if a tracker is set up for your local service provider, or if it takes a multi-service SIM card to work with multiple service providers. “Some of our trackers get service from multiple companies, but they may not all be great every day,” he says.
Software offered with the tracker is another feature to explore. “Is it easy to use?” asks Costanza. “Every company has phone apps, but some are not very good. Others allow you to do everything on your device that you could do on your computer.”
The grazing specialist warns against getting into a long-term contract. “Don’t go more than a year at a time,” he says. “The technology is constantly changing with new features and longer battery life.”
Costanzo has tried a few different commercial trackers sized to fit on a dog’s collar. Currently, he’s working with 40 to 50 trackers. Until recently his highest recommendation has been the Oyster3.
It can use either cellular or a LoRaWAN system to communicate and is fully waterproof. It’s sturdy and easy to attach to a collar. It uses 3 AAA batteries and claims 10+ years of battery life. Features include being able to set location boundaries with alerts should the dog leave the area.
Most recently, Costanzo has been exploring ear tag-sized trackers with mini-solar panels to keep them charged. The units are around 3 in. long, 1 1/2 in. wide and about 1/2 in. thick. The features are attractive enough to counter his recommendation of year-by-year contracts.
“The nice thing is you buy the tracker and the service for 3 years and never have to change a battery,” says Costanzo. “We have worked with a satellite-based one called the GSAT. It has a little loop at each end that can be attached to the collar with buttons like used with ear tags.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Bill Costanzo, LGD Research Associate II, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, 7887 U.S. Hwy 87N, San Angelo, Texas 76901 (ph 325-657-7311; mobile 707-775-9711; Bill.costanzo@ag.tamu.edu; https://sanangelo.tamu.edu/research/lgd/).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #2