Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #298095

Title: Virtual herding for flexible livestock management - a review

item Anderson, Dean
item Estell, Richard - Rick
item IVEY, SHANNA - New Mexico State University
item HOLECHEK, JERRY - New Mexico State University
item SMITH, GEOFFREY - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: The Rangeland Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/22/2014
Publication Date: 6/22/2014
Citation: Anderson, D.M., Estell, R.E., Ivey, S., Holechek, J.L., Smith, G.B. 2014. Virtual herding for flexible livestock management - a review. The Rangeland Journal. 36:205-221.

Interpretive Summary: Globally rangelands are complex, dynamic system composed of soils, plants and animals that when managed properly can provide food, fiber and water for a host of agricultural as well as non-agricultural goods and services essential for man's various life styles. Management of rangelands that promote efficiency and embrace unlimited flexibility within both a spatial as well as a temporal context should ensure profit and stability for all users regardless of their goals. Frequently animals are correctly and sometimes incorrectly singled out as the key source for many of the challenges facing rangelands. Though there are no "silver bullets" that will remedy all "key" rangeland challenges associated with animal dominated landscapes, being able to control free-ranging animals by managing their spatial and temporal location offers many exciting possibilities. Virtual fencing provides the opportunity for doing this. Virtual fencing offers autonomous management of free-ranging animals with the prescription like precision and accuracy that has not been possible in animal husbandry since shepphards were responsible for monitoring the movement of animals over a landscape. Virtual fencing melds animal behavior and many of the basic sciences with 21st century electronics to produce autonomous animal management. Though not presently commercially available preliminary research has demonstrated virtual fencing should reduce many costs such as those associated with manual labor and materials present day animal management requires yet produce surgical accuracy for managing stocking density of free-ranging animals in real-time.

Technical Abstract: Free-ranging livestock play a pivotal role globally in the conversion of plant tissue into products and services that support man’s many and changing lifestyles. With domestication came the task of providing livestock with an adequate plane of nutrition while simultaneously managing vegetation for sustainable production. Attempting to meld these two seemingly opposing management goals continues to be a major focus of rangeland research. Demand for multiple goods and services from rangelands today requires that livestock production make the smallest possible “negative hoofprint.” Advancements in global navigation satellite system, geographic information system, and electronic/computing technologies, coupled with improved understanding of animal behavior, positions virtual fencing (VF) as an increasingly attractive option for managing free-ranging livestock. Virtual fencing offers an alternative to conventional fencing by replacing physical barriers with sensory cues to control an animal’s forward movement. Currently, audio and electrical stimulation are the cues employed. When VF becomes a commercial reality, manual labor will be replaced in large part with cognitive labor for real-time prescription-based livestock distribution management that is robust, accurate, precise and flexible. The goal is to manage rangeland ecosystems optimally for soils, plants, herbivores in addition to the plant and animal’s microflora. However, maximizing the benefits of VF will require a paradigm shift in management by using VF as a “virtual herder” rather than simply as a tool to manage livestock within static physical barriers.