Highland calves William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are blissfully oblivious to the efforts undertaken to ensure they have been born happy and healthy. 

Key points:

  • Locked down Sydney residents use technology to keep tabs on livestock on a rural property
  • The ear tags have been monitoring a herd of Highland cattle  
  • The Australian technology is also helping prevent giraffe poaching in Africa

Unable to leave their home in locked down Sydney, the twins’ owners made use of a world-first technology, which acted as a virtual midwife for their mother. 

“We can comfortably sleep very easy at night knowing that we can check in on them virtually, wherever we are,” Neil Varcoe said. 

He and his wife had started using electronic tags on Highland cattle at their property in the Capertee Valley, near Lithgow, so they could keep a closer watch on the herd from their home in Sydney. 

The tag tracks an animal’s movement and can also gather data that details their welfare, health and performance. 

This information is sent via satellite to their owners.

Highland cow standing in cattle yards

First-time mum Shirley Manson surprised everybody with twins. (

ABC Central West: Xanthe Gregory 


The technology has been particularly useful because one of their Highland cows, Shirley Manson (named for the Edinburgh rock singer), was in calf. 

“It basically gives us real-time location data, so we’re able to see exactly where Shirley is at any point in time,” Mr Varcoe said. 

Highland calf standing in front of a tree and staring at camera

Freedom: William Wallace is named after a famous Scottish hero.(

Supplied: Neil Varcoe


When Shirley was showing signs of labour, Mr Varcoe was able to alert neighbours in the Capertee Valley to check on her progress and ensure she was not struggling or in distress.

Double the fun

Like all good stories, there is a plot twist. 

First-time mother Shirley gave birth to twins, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce (named after two Scottish warriors). 

“She initially took them both in but then after a little while she decided she was only going to take care of one.”

Three Highland Cattle staring at camera

The rest of the herd is in a separate paddock to give William Wallace and Shirley some peace and quiet. (

ABC Central West: Xanthe Gregory 


It is quite common for heifers to reject a twin, particularly if there is a gap in the time between when they are born. 

Robert the Bruce has been paired with a surrogate “mother”, a neighbour’s Poll Hereford who recently lost a newborn calf. 

Robbie, as he is now known, will be reunited with William and Shirley once he is weaned. 

Picture of flat valley surrounding by cliff-faced mountain range

The owners have been unable to leave locked down Sydney to check on their cattle in the remote Capertee Valley, near Lithgow. (

ABC Central West: Xanthe Gregory 


The technology has given the herd’s owners peace of mind. 

“When we first bought the farm during the hottest days of summer I would get in the truck and drive the three-to-four hours out there, check they had water and come back all within a day,” Mr Varcoe said. 

They now also use another type of technology to keep track of the water supplies on the property.

Cows to giraffes

The ear tags are the brainchild of a company that wanted to improve security on its family farm. 

“It has a very high retention rate. It’s not easy to get the tags off at all.”

Giraffe with ear tag attached to ear

The ear tags have also been used by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to help prevent poaching in Namibia.(

Supplied: Giraffe Conservation Foundation (Twitter)


The technology was developed in partnership with the CSIRO and came online in May.

The company is going through an accreditation process for the tags to be acknowledged overseas. 

They are already being used to help prevent poaching and predation of giraffe in Namibia. 

“We’re trying to fight that with Ceres Tags to reduce the impact of that because the animals are not only valued but there aren’t that many any more,” Mr Smith said. 

‘Virtual midwife’ helps Shirley Manson the Highland cow deliver a big surprise
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