Ranching is a nexus of economics, culture, and conservation in the western US. There is a critical need to integrate emerging technologies into traditional livestock practices to respond to the challenges of a changing world. Virtual fencing (VF) is one such technology. Using GPS-enabled cattle collars and on-ranch base stations, ranchers can create temporary or permanent virtual barriers that trigger collar stimulus to contain livestock in planned areas. This technology can save ranchers time and effort by allowing them to remotely adjust barriers, determine the location of animals, and examine how livestock are using pastures. They can then use this knowledge to improve grazing systems by adjusting in real-time in response to ecological conditions.
Building on VF field trials in Arizona, this two-year train-the-trainer program will increase the knowledge, skill, and capacity of producers, Cooperative Extension professionals, agencies, and non-governmental organizations to evaluate and implement VF technology. Rangeland and beef cattle professionals at the University of Arizona and Arizona Cooperative Extension, with Santa Rita Ranch LLC will: (1) conduct an economic cost-benefit analysis of VF technology, (2) create outreach materials (fact sheets, training guide, demonstration video), (3) host three on-ranch workshops to provide hands-on learning experiences, (4) lead three web-based courses, and (5) extend learning opportunities to western producers through online marketing.
Without VF training programs, managers and producers may miss opportunities to use VF to adapt to challenges or may misapply the technology. Increasing management flexibility is essential for ranchers to meet fundamental and emerging management challenges such as animal welfare; climate variability and change; and livestock management in ecologically sensitive areas. The integration of novel technologies combined with well-established agricultural knowledge and methodologies has the potential to develop mutually beneficial outcomes for both the ranching community and the environment.
Project objectives from proposal:
This project will provide multiple training opportunities designed to increasing economic and ecological sustainability of ranching by introducing precision livestock management and VF technologies to meet the following objective:
By the end of the project period, increase knowledge, skills, and technical capacity for VF evaluation, implementation, operation, and economic assessment among western rangeland professionals and producers, including: ranchers; Arizona, New Mexico, and California Cooperative Extension professionals; NRCS; USFS; NGOs; and local land management agencies.
Success will be measured by surveying participants before and after in-person workshops and webinars to test knowledge and skill acquisition related to VF implementation, operation, and economic assessment and comfort level with use of computer programs and other technologies needed to implement VF. Programming will be adjusted at each workshop and webinar using results from surveys conducted at previous trainings.
The project team has the knowledge and expertise to achieve this objective. Faculty from UArizona (PI Lien) and ACE (PI Beard) are cooperating with Santa Rita Ranch LLC (McGibbon) to implement VF field trials at the SRER. Trials include ~500 cattle wearing collars to test implementation and cost effectiveness of the technology (IACUC-Approval). The PIs of this proposal have extensive experience designing and hosting Extension workshops. UArizona research staff have years of experience designing and developing online resources for Rangelands Partnership (RP; Dalke, Noelle, Rahr) and are conducting field research on VF technology (Antaya, Mayer, Noelle). UArizona resource economics staff will conduct the cost-benefit analysis (Duval). Landmark Stories, UArizona’s internal documentary film studio, will produce the demonstration video. The project team will use knowledge and experience gained from VF field trials and literature to effectively disseminate information related to animal agriculture, agronomics, and the effects of sustainable practices on quality of life for producers and rural communities to western agricultural professionals.