Virtual fencing to build soil health, range productivity, and rancher wellbeing in drought-prone ranches

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $24,999.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2026
Host Institution Award ID: G326-23-W9982
Grant Recipient: Quivira Coalition
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Jorge Ramirez
Taiban Ranch


  • Animals: bovine
  • Animal Products: meat


  • Animal Production: grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns

    Proposal summary:

    Bare ground is increasing in New Mexico at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country according to NRCS. By herding cattle in small areas, progressive ranchers have observed a very interesting sequence of events: Cattle eat the good grasses and the not-so-good as well, the overall forage consumption takes longer than it used to, and the overall harvest amount is also increased. With these effects combined, ranchers have found that their ranges produce more grass than what they need year round, so they can have longer resting periods. With this restored cycle, plants grow stronger and increase ground cover and the biodiversity of the community is also enhanced via moisture holding capacity and solar energy and carbon dioxide transformation into organic matter, which allows water to percolate down to subsoil, and cleanses the atmosphere.

    However, understanding the costs and benefits of emerging tools and technologies such as virtual fencing across entire ranches is needed to increase adoption of adaptive management that lead to economic, animal welfare, and ecological benefits. In this project, we will demonstrate virtual fencing in a drought-stricken region for three years and compare existing management and animal condition records with the values after using virtual fencing. Additionally, we will leverage open source, satellite-based data on plant community and bare ground to relate changes to healthy soil. Finally, we will share results through on-ranch trainings and to wider audiences through a webinar and podcast to reduce barriers to implementation of rotational grazing. Our ultimate educational goal is to engage enough neighboring producers to share land or leases by using this novel technology and thus build stronger ties among rural food system communities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives

    Overall, Taiban Creek Ranch wishes to be a demonstration of how virtual fencing can be used in a drought-stricken region to balance livelihood, animal welfare, and ecological resilience. I wish to promote ecological restoration that, ultimately, will benefit humanity in general, together with all other living organism on the planet. As the ecology recovers from continuous grazing, the grasslands will be able to produce more animal products per acre, at lower cost; that will increase the incomes of the ranchers, and include them in economic progress for their communities, regions and several industries that grow together with the ranching business. Not talking only about monetary benefits, but the access to a cleaner atmosphere, since CO2 has been removed from the air and buried into the soil as roots and living organisms; more and cleaner water, since the rain is captured and infiltrated into deep soil reservoirs, instead of running off and eroding the soils; and an increase of high-quality animal protein products that otherwise are not available for people around the world.

    1. Compare the costs of rotational grazing using traditional infrastructure (permanent and electric fencing) and emerging virtual fencing technologies. Costs include accounting for time spent with grazing planning, maintaining infrastructure, equipment and supplies and will use a "before-after" design. 
    2. Compare the benefits to livestock behavior and health of rotational grazing using traditional infrastructure and emerging virtual fencing technologies. Some metrics, including sale weight and body condition score at different times of year, will use a "before-after" design. Others, including distances traveled, rest periods, etc. will be compared using data from the virtual fencing receivers after virtual fencing is put in place and animals become accustomed to it. 
    3. Compare the benefits to plant community (using functional groups) and in turn soil health of rotational grazing using traditional infrastructure and emerging virtual fencing technologies. We will leverage open source, satellite- and model-based data repositories such as to compare plant functional diversity (annual vs. perennial forb and grass, shrub, bare ground, etc.) and biomass both through time (1980s - present) and compared to neighboring ranches.

    Education Objectives

    Ultimately, we want to transform regenerative agriculture into a more community-based experience, with knowledge sharing and support flowing among ranchers. From that groundwork, we can imagine multiple ranchers sharing a larger plot of land and track and contain their herds precisely. Virtual fencing could thus change the way land is stewarded amongst different groups of people, and open source technology like programs in OpenTEAM can help us track and share that information. For this project, however, specific objectives include:

    1. Demonstrate set-up and initial set-backs and solutions of virtual fencing technology to neighboring ranchers to reduce anxiety of the initial drop in production during transition from one system to another.
    2. Demonstrate maintenance and benefits of virtual fencing technology to neighboring ranchers to incentivize adoption and make time for community discussion of a plan for sharing resources at a local or regional scale. 
    3. Share results of the research (objectives 1-3) with a wider audience through webinar and podcast interviews by partnering with a non-profit dedicated to regenerative agriculture.
    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.