KSU Virtual Fence Research Aims to Advance Cattle Ranch Conservation
Virtual fence uses GPS tracking to keep livestock out of protected areas
Imagine raising livestock without traditional fencing and costly, time-consuming fence repairs. Two Kansas State University ecologists are working to make this vision a reality while benefiting streams and birds. It is part of a multi-partner research project using virtual electronic cattle fencing in the Flint Hills of Kansas.
Virtual fencing is achieved through special cattle collars and advanced GPS tracking that can be used to create exclusion zones or move livestock without the need for physical fencing.
The Nature Conservancy is partnering with Kansas State University, the National Park Service, the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition, and private growers to determine if virtual fences can help managers improve conservation, business, and environmental outcomes. of soil carbon on working cattle ranches in the United States. K-State received a $435,000 grant from The Nature Conservancy to study the conservation aspects of the project in Kansas.
This K-State work is part of a $2 million three-site project that is also evaluating how soil carbon and livestock outcomes can be improved with innovative management options made possible by virtual fencing. . Other project sites are located in Colorado and New Mexico.
The Flint Hills are home to some of the last tallgrass prairie in the United States. During the five-year study, Alice Boyle, an associate professor of biology, and Walter Dodds, a distinguished university professor of biology, will serve as K-State co-principal investigators. They seek to understand how grazing practices created by virtual fences affect grassland vegetation, watersheds and birds in the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and the nearby Mushrush Red Angus Ranch near Strong City.
The experiments will allow Boyle to assess the impacts of virtual fencing on the habitat of grassland-dependent birds, including Greater Greater Prairie-Chicken and Henslow’s Sparrow. Dodds will study effects on riparian zones – areas bordering bodies of water – and water quality.
“This is a great opportunity for us to test how to use virtual fencing to protect waterways in the Flint Hills,” Dodds said. “Along with the management concerns of tallgrass prairie and the Flint Hills, ranchers and researchers seek to align conservation and beef production goals.”
Cattle grazing mimics the original bison grazing, which is an important part of the prairie ecosystem. Grazing helps create the habitat patches needed by tallgrass birds and is also a land management tool. According to the researchers, this project will help uncover potential new conservation and land management practices by precisely controlling livestock movements.
“Grazers are really an important part of the system,” Boyle said. “A lot of grassland birds need livestock. It’s all in the details – the amounts, the places and the times. This project is going to be a huge step forward in being able to manage grazing at fine spatial scales to get the structure of the vegetation. the birds need.”
The Nature Conservancy strives to advance the use of land management tools and practices that enhance grassland habitats and to support the adoption of best practices by ranchers, resource professionals, and other land managers. lands.
“In the area of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve where we will be using virtual fencing, we are not able to use a full three-year rotation of slash-and-burn grazing,” said Flint Initiative Manager Anthony Capizzo. Hills at The Nature Conservancy. “This project has the potential to increase the diversity of habitat types to create a more complex grassland with positive effects on livestock management and economic viability.”
Mushrush Red Angus, a private ranch owned by Daniel Mushrush, adjoins the reserve and is a partner in the research project. Mushrush seeks to support the conversational goals of The Nature Conservancy, but also to ensure the prosperity of its business.
“We’re using 21st century technology to solve more than one problem at a time,” Mushrush said. “By using these collars on both sides of property lines, we are protecting prairie chicken leks and riparian areas and at the same time grazing more efficiently and smarter.”
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