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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #295919

Title: Potential for using visual, auditory, and olfactory cues to manage foraging behaviour and spatial distribution of rangeland livestock


Submitted to: CAB Reviews: Perspectives in Agriculture, Veterinary Science, Nutrition and Natural Resources
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/1/2013
Publication Date: 12/3/2013
Publication URL:
Citation: Howery, L.D., Cibils, A.F., Anderson, D.M. 2013. Potential for using visual, auditory, and olfactory cues to manage foraging behaviour and spatial distribution of rangeland livestock. CAB Reviews. 8, No. 049, 10 p.

Interpretive Summary: This literature review summarizes research into using both positive as well as negative cue-consequence associations involving sensory cues, primarily sight, sound, smell but also touch to manage livestock. The studies cover a range of experiments from pen through field studies to elucidate sensory principles that dictate behaviors. Altering drinking and eating together with ensuring the animal's safety and well being formed the basis for the numerous studies that have been conducted, with most studies having a focus on positively altering animal distribution under free-ranging conditions. The range of scales covered in these studies provide insight into the basis for managing free-ranging livestock in a humane manor to foster desirable behaviors. Though previous studies provide management options and suggest recommendations for future research some methodologies such as virtual fencing must await commercialization before their practical implications can be realized at a producer's scale. The potential to manage free-ranging livestock in a flexible manner in real time using behavior modification promises to be a realistic goal for 21st century livestock management.

Technical Abstract: This paper reviews the literature and reports on the current state of knowledge regarding the potential for managers to use visual (VC), auditory (AC), and olfactory (OC) cues to manage foraging behavior and spatial distribution of rangeland livestock. We present evidence that free-ranging livestock use these sensory cues to make decisions about foraging, drinking, habitat selection and spatial distribution, and to detect and avoid predators. This knowledge provides managers with opportunities to favorably alter behavioral patterns of rangeland ungulates. Opportunities to use sensory cues to shape livestock spatial distribution patterns arise primarily from the abilities of animals to: a) learn to respond to cue-consequence associations which enhances their ability to adapt to changing foraging environments on rangelands, b) generalize learned cue-consequence associations across spatial and temporal foraging scales, and c) influence one another’s behavior through social learning. Key literature is initially reviewed from fine-scale studies (e.g., controlled studies conducted in mazes, arenas) and from field-scale studies (e.g., controlled and observational studies conducted in large pastures or paddocks). We then discuss potential management implications derived from these studies. Finally, we summarize conclusions and recommendations for potential future research directions. The studies reviewed here suggest that VC, AC, and OC associated with positive or negative reinforces can be used to effectively direct livestock towards or away from selected areas. The feasibility of favorably altering grazing pressure on rangelands without having to build expensive, static fences has the potential to provide substantial economic and ecologic advantages.