Projects Inventory

Non-Member

Virtual Fencing, The Future of Livestock Management

Amanda J Miller

BC Cattlemen's Association

April 2021 - March 2022

Audience(s): Cow-Calf NGOs Institutions/Academics   Project Type(s): Demonstration

Fencing is the primary livestock management tool used across the Canada’s rangelands. Although fencing provides opportunity for enhanced livestock management and subsequent improved grassland health by providing a tool to manage grazing spatially and temporally, it can have negative impacts on wildlife by presenting hazards and barriers. Fences can impact daily or seasonal movements and may act as barriers to forage and water resources, and in some cases wildlife collisions can result in injury or mortality, along with damage to fences. (Paige, 2020)

Wildlife have also shown avoidance of areas that have high densities of fences, pronghorn for example prefer ranges with lower densities of fencing infrastructure, selecting them over areas with high densities of fencing (Jones et al., 2019; Sheldon, 2005).

Virtual fencing provides an alternative to physical fence infrastructure that reduces wildlife conflicts while enhancing stewardship outcomes by providing adaptive grazing opportunities. If implemented in the critical grasslands habitats of Canada virtual fencing could support the removal of interior fencing infrastructure from livestock operations (ranches, community pastures, grazing leases, etc.) creating large contiguous areas with enhanced wildlife values due to reduced fencing conflicts. This would reduce migratory barriers, decrease mortality and injury, improve post-fire grazing management, and enhance species at risk habitat and survivorship by providing unlimited flexibility in shape and timing of virtual fencing boundaries.

Critical grassland habitat for species at risk heavily overlaps with livestock grazing as a land use, and is compatible with conserving critical species at risk habitat (Carlyle, 2019; CRSB, 2016; Rimbey et al., 2015). As with other wildlife species, grassland species at risk do not have unanimous habitat requirements, with habitat preferences ranging from heavily to lightly disturbed (Jones, Downey, et al., 2019).

Virtual fencing technology has the potential to enable adaptive management for habitat heterogeneity to meet the needs of multiple species at risk, providing a mosaic of disturbance levels and habitat for the largest suite of wildlife (Jones et al., 2019; Noss, 1990). Reduction of physical fencing has the potential to reduce species at risk mortality and improve survivorship.

For example the greater sage grouse suffers mortality from fence related collisions, and fences result in increased predation on sage grouse by improving avian or mammalian predator efficiency (Environment Canada, 2013). Removing physical fencing and replacing with virtual fencing reduces these mortality factors and has the potential to improve greater sage grouse survivorship. Additionally, virtual fencing has the ability to support the application of beneficial grazing practices by supporting improved flexibility in the timing, intensity, and duration of grazing application (Adams et al., 2004).

Virtual fencing has considerable applicability relative to biodiversity benefits, with the most value centered around the stewardship and improvement of species at risk habitat by providing enhanced capabilities in managing the timing and application of grazing in critical habitat, and the removal of fencing infrastructure and the negative impacts it has on many species at risk.

This innovative project is focused on the development and testing of wearable technology to manage and track cattle movement. This represents a ‘made in Western Canada’ virtual fencing product with functionality both within and outside of cellular service, taking advantage of existing cellular and satellite infrastructure. Virtual fence boundaries will be established and maintained by the rancher/ranch manager through a programming interface via a combination s, where cattle location is updated in real time using cellular connectivity and data transfer. This concept has proven effectiveness internationally, but existing technology overseas is not transferable to Western Canada’s cellular network, or utilize different radio-telemetry-based technology requiring construction of dedicated towers. Cattle will be conditioned to recognize virtual fence boundaries using a combination of . Animal welfare is a priority consideration for this project. The intent is to ensure that technology is not only effective, but also adheres to high animal welfare standards, and to meet this objective the project team has partnered with the University of British Columbia’s Animal Welfare Program. This project is led by the BC Cattlemen’s Association, with hardware and data aggregation developed by A4 Systems, software and user interface developed by Two Story Robot, and cellular chips and network connectivity through existing infrastructure provided by TELUS.  In 2021, Phase 1 of this project is focused on technology development and assuring utility on cattle in conventional range and pasture settings in British Columbia. This will see the development and deployment of 15 prototype collars for testing in partnership with Thibeault Ranch in Cranbrook, BC.

Goals:

Goal #3: Enhance ecosystem services and biodiversity on lands managed by beef producers

Indicators Addressed:
  • Grasslands, tame pastures and native ecosystems are maintained or enhanced
    • Grasslands, tame pastures and native ecosystems shall be monitored and managed, and a balanced approach to exotic and invasive plants shall be achieved.
  • Innovation and technology are utilized to improve responsible production
    • Innovation and technology shall be utilized to improve production efficiency in a responsible manner
Communication Tools:

Partners, co-funders, and end users will assist in communicating technology research and development results over the lifecycle of the project. Technical bulletins will be published following prototype testing and beta testing, and circulated through Beef in BC, Beef Cattle Research Council’s Blog, and Canadian Cattlemen’s ‘The Beef Magazine’ and other venues. The BC Cattlemen’s Association, A4, and Two Story Robot will leverage social media to inform target audiences and the public. Focused on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, monthly informative posts on progress and technology application/utility will occur, increasing as opportunities present themselves relative to technology development and application milestones.

Workshops on virtual fencing efficacy and utility will occur beginning in 2022 at Mattheis Research Ranch in partnership with the University of Alberta and the Thibeault Ranch in Cranbrook, with outreach targeted to producer groups, academic institutions, and environmental groups. As technology becomes established tech transfer events will increase in frequency and location, with the intention to carry out workshops at participating ranches across target testing areas beginning in 2023.   

Specific communications deliverables include:  two Technical bulletins will be provided. Technical bulletins will be created annually, for a total of 2 over the funding lifecycle.  1 Virtual Fencing animal and producer training framework will be developed and utilized by testing partners. Technology training is part of prototyping and beta testing, with training occurring at between 5-10 ranches over 2021-2022.   Two workshops will occur during funding lifecycle, at the Mattheis Research Ranch and the Thibeault Ranch, with a target audience of 50 attendees from mixed backgrounds (producers, NGO’s, government, academic, industry).  5-8 Articles will be published over the funding lifecycle across media outlets and industry magazines/publications  18 social media posts during funding lifecycle, across LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

Tagged as: Grazing Management