Signal management

Researchers design robust virtual fence technology for sustainable animal management

MOSCOW Ranches across the American West could make their grazing practices more sustainable thanks to a virtual fencing system being developed as part of a joint project with the University of Idaho.

Newly awarded federal funding last month launched a four-year field project for researchers from the U of I and Washington State University to test the safety and efficacy of a prototype virtual fence system that uses new features to manage cows, sheep and other grazing animals with the minimal ecological footprint.

Livestock and well-managed rangelands require barriers to divide pastures and successfully graze. But physical barriers – expensive to build, modify and maintain – disrupt wildlife migration and fragment habitats. The new technology being developed aims to provide an inexpensive tool for sustainable livestock and land management that works reliably in the mountainous western states, where existing virtual systems struggle to provide GPS data. reliable.

“As wildlife habitat becomes increasingly fragmented and recreational activities on rangelands continue to grow, maintaining clear corridors for wildlife and human movement is critical,” said Karen Launchbaugh. , director of the U of I Rangeland Center. “Advances in chain-link fence design have reduced problems for wildlife, but chain-link fences continue to disrupt wildlife movement.”

Commercial virtual fence systems deliver an electric shock to a cow’s neck when the animal approaches a virtual fence. These systems eliminate the need for metal fencing by relying on GPS technology, but require subscriptions and expensive ground signal towers. Virtual fence systems make it simple to move fence locations, but they require regular updates, battery replacement, and recharging. Equipment also costs up to several hundred dollars per cow.

The new virtual fence system designed by U of I and WSU researchers uses proximity-sensing technology that works in mountainous terrain and shocks the ear rather than the neck. Both of these changes can make the system cheaper, less energy-intensive, and more sustainable.

The Rangeland Center, which leads the U of I’s project efforts, partners with ranchers and land managers to identify critical rangeland issues to guide and inform research. The project last month received a $1 million grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.