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A Future Without Fences? Optimizing Animal and Land Management Through Applications of Precision Animal Management on Complex Southwestern Rangelands

Sponsored by United States Department of Agriculture

$220.1K Funding
5 People

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Ranchers and land management agencies across the U.S. continue to rely on 150-year-old technology to contain and manage livestock--thousands of miles of wire fencing across millions of acres of rangelands. And along with these fences, problems of the past persist today. Wire fencing can fragment landscapes, harm wildlife, and is a major financial investment for ranchers and land agencies, costing tens of thousands of dollars per mile. Fences are also vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Wildfires in the west destroy wire fences on public and private rangelands and cause years of costly uncertainty as trees fall across fence lines, requiring constant repair. These factors continually increase fencing costs for ranchers, while undermining rangeland condition and animal welfare when animals escape through damaged fences. A new 21st century rangeland management and animal production approach that embraces precision management is needed to meet these challenges. One new technology provides an opportunity to manage livestock on open rangelands without the use of traditional wire fencing--virtual fencing (VF). Virtual fencing may represent a first step toward a world without physical fences. However, much is unknown about the ecological and economic performance of VF, and its direct and indirect impacts on animal welfare, especially in the challenging rangeland environment of the southwestern U.S. Our project directly addresses the need for new research on the effects of VF on animal health, rangeland condition, and ranch economics, and delivers these findings to producers through a comprehensive extension outreach and education program.