RENO – Managing livestock on Nevada’s thousands of acres of rangeland is no small feat, but researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno may have found a way to combine high technology with high desert ranching.
Using a method that builds upon the concept of invisible fencing for dogs, the rangeland version uses virtual fencing towers that are networked to establish a boundary. Then, cattle wear a GPS collar which sends a warning signal, such as a sound or an electrical stimulation, as they near the boundary keeping them where they’re supposed to be.
Unlike conventional fences, which are time consuming to erect and maintain, the virtual fence boundaries can be placed almost anywhere and easily moved. This helps ranchers better manage their livestock, and maintain and improve natural resource conditions by ensuring cattle are grazing in the right place and for the right amount of time.
This virtual fencing project was spearheaded by Paul Meiman, associate professor and Extension specialist in the UNR College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources. When Meiman started working in Elko last fall he learned that local ranchers were interested in implementing virtual fencing for managing livestock.
Seeing an opportunity to conduct valuable research on this new tool, Meiman jumped on the project. He and graduate student Nathan Jero worked with the Maggie Creek Ranch, Cottonwood Ranch and virtual fencing company Vence to bring it all together.
The university said Meiman’s research is unique in the realm of virtual fencing due to both the scale and method. So far, virtual fencing has been studied using small numbers of animals (six to 30) on small areas of land (less than 30 acres). Meiman, however, is planning on using this technology on hundreds of animals and thousands of acres. Each of the two ranches participating in the project received 130 collars each just this month.
“We couldn’t dream of doing this kind of work without the support and help of the ranchers,” Meiman said. “With their help, we’re hoping these virtual fencing technologies develop into a new and valuable tool for rangeland management, helping to sustain this valuable resource for the future.”
The project, a partnership of the College’s Extension and Experiment Station units, the ranches, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is entering its second year of a three-year timeline.
While the potential benefits of this new technology are exciting, Meiman and the ranchers are firm that this tool will only add to a myriad of others and cannot replace the human aspect of ranching, such as the knowledge of both the landscape and animal behaviors and their complex interactions.