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Movement of Cattle With Satellites
By David Elstein
August 12, 2002
Global Positioning Systems
(GPS)--technology used in automobiles to obtain directions and in golf carts to
measure distance--are being used to track cattle. Previously, the only way to
see where cattle roamed was to have people watch them, which can be expensive.
Researchers want to know why cattle travel where they do. Better
understanding of grazing behavior will allow managers to disperse cattle more
effectively, since they use only 30 to 50 percent of their pastures. Livestock
distribution is a major issue for ranchers, and the GPS technology is really
the first tool to allow researchers to better understand why cattle make the
choices they do about where to graze.
Agricultural Research Service
rangeland scientist Dave Ganskopp, at ARS'
Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research
Center, Burns, Ore., has installed collars with special radio receivers on
a dozen cattle. These receivers collect information from a constellation of 24
to 30 satellites that may be working at any one time. Using satellite
coordinates, researchers can determine within a few meters where a cow was and
at what time she was there. Not only do the GPS units track where these cattle
roam, they also monitor head movements that indicate whether the animals are
eating, sleeping or just walking.
Once he gets the information from the collars, Ganskopp puts the data in a
computer and uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to understand and
visualize the environment the cattle were in. With his results, he will develop
computer software to determine what cattle will do in various situations and
the effects of adding fences and water. Ganskopp, who has been working on this
study for almost two years, hopes to eventually be able to predict where cattle
will roam and forage.
More information on this research can be found in
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.