Testing virtual fence systems for fire fuel management

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $23,309.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G282-23-W9982
Grant Recipient: Cuyama Lamb LLC
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Jack Anderson
Cuyama Lamb LLC


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: grazing management
  • Education and Training: demonstration
  • Sustainable Communities: community services

    Proposal summary:

    Precise grazing management is a powerful tool for effective fire fuel management and can benefit diverse ecologies and support localized meat and fiber production. Many of our most essential ecological and fuel management areas however are extremely difficult to fence and may even be impractical for herding. The difficulty of management and extensive labor required, on-top of new labor regulations, is pressing the limits of viability for many grazing operators to meet this new opportunity.

    We will use 100 GPS collars to test a group of ewes in a diversity of contexts, comparing the results, in labor, containment and effectively reaching the goals of the treatment, to other groups managed in electric fence rotation. If the virtual fence is more effective, or slightly less effective with an extreme reduction in labor, we will be able to compare the cost of equipment and maintenance with the cost of intensive labor over time and determine how viable an investment in this technology will be for producers and service providers depending on their contexts.

    If this technology proves effective it has the capacity to greatly increase the opportunity to use livestock where often herbicide, mastication or other intensive mechanical removal jobs have been the only option. It also has the potential to create opportunities for intensive livestock rotation without expensive and wildlife inhibiting fencing, or labor intensive systems for producers.

    We will work with our extension agent, local non-profits and relevant industry and fuel management partners to disseminate the results locally and state wide. We will make a presentation with photos and details that will be shared with these stakeholders and shared on our website, and they will also share the information in their channels and potentially participate in a webinar.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objective of the project is to test the viability of virtual fence technology for managing fire fuel in invaded grasslands and steep shrub communities with grazing animals in Santa Barbara County. Currently there is a large opportunity to link food and fiber production, with large scale fuels and environmental management using prescribed herbivory practices. The current limitations mostly revolve around the extremely labor intensive practices of constantly moving animals, monitoring for effective ecological outcomes and moving through extreme or unnavigable terrain where fuel management is often the most important or where invasive weeds are stubborn. Virtual fencing systems, or gps controlled shock collars, could potentially solve this problem, but adoption of the technology is expensive and risky if it proves to have glitches, require more labor intensive management of collars, or be ineffective.
    Cuyama Lamb is perfectly poised to test this technology. We have just received a contract to service 1k acres per year for Santa Barbara County Fire Safe Council. Many of the sites we have to manage will become part of a regular fuel management regime. However, fencing and labor needs for these projects will be extensive. We have also just been accepted to the No Fence virtual fence pilot program and have an opportunity that many producers do not, to try 100 units.
    If we are able to actualize this opportunity not only will we be able to make a determination on future investments in the technology, but we will be able to demonstrate and present our findings to other operators and fuel management agencies as an exciting new tool for managing fuel and sustainable livestock production.

    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.