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Virtual herding for flexible livestock management – a review

Dean M. Anderson, Rick E. Estell, Jerry L. Holechek, Shanna Ivey, Geoffrey B. Smith
Rangeland journal 2014 v.36 no.3 pp. 205-221
animal behavior, ecosystems, electrical treatment, feeding level, fences, free range husbandry, geographic information systems, global positioning systems, herbivores, herding, labor, livestock, livestock production, microorganisms, plant tissues, vegetation
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.