Using No-Fence Technology to Integrate Livestock Into Vegetable Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $29,875.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Cannon Valley Graziers, LLC
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Arlo Cristofaro-Hark
Cannon Valley Graziers, LLC


No commodities identified


No practices identified

Proposal summary:

The benefits of rotational grazing and bale grazing are well documented in the world of soil health. However, one of the main barriers to implementing rotational grazing systems directly on land that is used for vegetable production, is that much of the infrastructure required for rotational grazing practices is incompatible with vegetable production. Permanent fences are expensive, and difficult to maneuver tractors and other vegetable production equipment around, while temporary, “electro-net” fences are time consuming to set up and take down, and are not a good option for bale grazing during the winter months, as the ground is frozen and snow reduces the electrical charge. 


As a result, instead of stacking the benefits of livestock production directly on the land, vegetable farmers often pay to ‘import’ nutrients to their farm in the form of compost and other additives. Soil remediation can be an annual expense, and can reduce the profitability of small-scale vegetable productions.

Project objectives from proposal:


With the recent emergence of virtual fencing technology (a containment system in which each animal wears a collar connected to a satellite, and paddocks are drawn virtually on a computer or smartphone), there is a significant opportunity to re-imagine the logistics of stacking the benefits rotational grazing on land that is used for vegetable production. For our project, we will study a) the soil-health benefits of, and b) the financial impact of, co-locating small ruminants on vegetable farms using these new virtual fencing systems.

Our study will take place at Spring Wind Farm, a vegetable CSA near Northfield, Minnesota, with about 10 acres of land in production. We will begin by gathering baseline data from past years, including soil fertility data, crop yield data, and the annual cost of soil remediation. This data from past years will be used as a control in our study, so we are able to accurately measure the results as compared to standard practices from years past. 

We will then work with Spring Wind Farm to develop a grazing plan for the site, which will take into consideration crop rotation, planting and harvesting schedules, water access, and availability of forage. Our grazing plan will include the deployment of livestock during both the growing season and non-growing season; during the warmer months sheep will graze planted cover crops, taking care to observe food safety standards and raw manure application guidelines  (90-120 days). In the winter months, the sheep will be provided round bales of wrapped haylage, staggered and preplaced in targeted areas.

For the duration of the study, approximately 50 ewes will be brought to the site to graze, and will be contained using virtual fencing technology. Forage grazing will begin in fall of 2023, after the harvest of early-season annuals, and will be followed by bale feeding. In order to ensure that manure and organic matter is spread evenly throughout the tillable acreage (or avoids areas such as field roads and irrigation heads) we will create small paddocks using the virtual fencing technology, and frequently rotate the flock throughout the space. The specific paddock locations and sizes will be determined in the grazing plan, and will be based on the aforementioned considerations.

To study the impact on soil fertility, soil samples will be collected twice annually throughout the duration of the study, beginning in the fall, prior to sheep arriving on site. This data will be compiled in a soil health report at the conclusion of the study. In addition to soil test results, the report will also include photos and other on-the-ground observations taken throughout the growing season. 

To determine the financial impact of our study, we will use our soil health report to determine if remediation will be required on the same schedule as years past, or if that cost can be saved through the integration of livestock. We will also compare crop data to determine the impact of livestock integration on crop yields. 



  • Integrate livestock into vegetable cropping systems and evaluate the impact on soil fertility.
  • Quantify the financial impact, if any, for both vegetable farmers and livestock producers.
  • Determine the efficacy of implementing virtual fencing technology in a late-season and winter grazing environment.
  • Perform a basic evaluation the scalability of integrating livestock rotations into specialty crop environments.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.