Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Colorado ranchers moove into the future with virtual fences that help sustain public grasslands

...High in the hills, above that wire fence, is a small, camo-painted tower with an antenna that communicates with local cell towers. There are nine more of those antennas on mountaintops in Eagle and Garfield counties. The towers broadcast a virtual fence technology that is helping the BLM improve rangeland while giving shepherds and ranchers unprecedented control of their livestock.

“How can we manage livestock without structure? Now there are endless possibilities. You can sit on your screen, figure out where you want to send your animals, how long you want them there and how you are going to move your animals across the landscape,” says Hilary Boyd, assistant field manager in the BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office. “It just gives us so much more flexibility.”

Funded in part by a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, programs for both wildlife and rangeland at the BLM and Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Habitat Partnership Program, the first-ever virtual fencing program has grown from one rancher with about 135 cows to more than 2,000 cows in its first two years. There are 10 towers in Eagle and Garfield counties pinging virtual fences that span 500,000 acres. More are coming. 

For land managers and ranchers who rest and rotate pastures — leaving them ungrazed for consecutive seasons to allow native grasses to flourish — virtual fencing “is how you create more grass,” says Pat Luark, who has grazed his family’s cattle on public lands near his ranch above Burns for more than 60 years. 

...It takes a bit for the cows to figure out how the virtual fences work. The collars — offered by virtual fence company Vence — work like a dog shock collar. They vibrate and emit beeps and tones as cows near borders. Ideally the cows learn to turn away when they feel that buzz or hear that beep. If they keep going they get a zap.

Typically ranchers spend a few weeks teaching their cows how to respond to the buzzing, beeping and zapping. After the animals figure out the system, they are moved onto the range.

The younger cows who are venturing into rangeland for the first time learn quickly. The older cows that have been to a particular area before are harder to train...    MORE 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who is paying for these virtual fences? How does this work in woodland or more dense timbered areas? How do you bring back animals who cross over the signal? Might work in open range areas to some extent. Training livestock to this is not easy.