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Virtual Fencing: Control from Above

Cow equipped with a GPS collar, used to track the location of the animal.

Cow equipped with a GPS collar, used to track the location of the animal.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

While driving, have you ever wondered why there are so many fences to interrupt your  soul-satisfying, wide-open-spaces experience?  Until recently, that was the only way to keep livestock in their place, so to speak.  But today’s wire fencing and posts soon will be augmented with virtual fencing that erases these visual barriers from the landscape.

The concept is simple:  You simply equip the animal with a global positioning system (GPS) and a few pieces of electronic hardware.  Add a little software that can help send auditory cues where and when they’re needed, with varying levels of intensity, and what do you have?  Directional virtual fencing (DVF™).

You can’t let cows linger too long in one area or they might overgraze the available forage.  But the vast spaces out West can make it difficult to keep up in person with a herd’s movements.

This new system locates the cows on the range with global positioning and sends auditory signals—such as a human voice—that can be raised or lowered in volume.  The commands can range from “gathering songs” sung by cowboys during roundups to sirens that are almost sure to get cows to move or stay away from forbidden areas.  This is a more humane method of herd control than using a “one size fits all” approach.

The system is even automated so ranchers can cue their cattle at any time, and track the herd’s movement from a computer.

Want to see this high-tech cattle roundup technique for yourself?  Visit “Moving Cows Using Virtual Fencing” to see how the cowboys of tomorrow can “keep them dogies moving.”

6 Responses to “Virtual Fencing: Control from Above”

  1. Larry says:

    Interesting…does it really work or just a good idea? My experience with cattle is, they are curious and will try to locate the sound verses running away from it. Cool technology and idea tho.

  2. Caleb says:

    What about capturing younger animals to loosen collars as they grow or batteries that go dead in the collars? It sounds like this system may be more labor intensive over the long run than fencing a pasture one time.

  3. Julie says:

    Not to mention what about animals you are trying to keep OUT of the area. Like kids and people!

  4. Greg says:

    What is the cost? On a large landscape I can see this working by placing collar on lead cattle and herd quitters.

  5. Shar says:

    With the anti predator control sentiment and lack of poison, us sheep ranchers have had to go to livestock protection dogs. If we could fence canines out, we would not need our dogs. The #1 reason LP dogs do not work out is difficulty keeping them where they belong, especially when they leave in hot pursuit of a coyote. When/where is this available? Cost? With LP dogs maybe several neighboring ranches could share a base unit?

  6. blogs.usda.gov says:

    Virtual fencing control from above.. He-he-he :)

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