Virtual fencing - the practice of manipulating grazing management remotely via GPS-linked devices on the animals - is an emerging range management strategy. Virtual fencing allows ranchers to create boundaries to either include or exclude cattle without the use of physical fences. These boundaries can be changed remotely from a smartphone or other device, and they can be changed as necessary, allowing ranchers to have greater control over grazing boundaries. At the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory (GSL), research is currently underway to learn how virtual fencing compares to traditional physical fencing and the effects it might have on cattle management and stress levels of cattle.
Virtually fencing could also be the next great tool in land managers' and ranchers' pockets when it comes to precision management and conservation. With its potential to replace physical fencing, virtual fencing could reduce the impact that physical fencing can have on many different aspects of natural resource management. Virtual fencing has the ability to help create a fenceless migration path for large mammals, eliminate perching points for birds of prey to target small prairie mammals, and even create grazing strategies to help create more habitat for grassland birds like the Greater Prairie Chicken and the Sage Grouse. Overall, virtual fencing can help greatly reduce the time and energy put into helping wildlife and cattle coexist and thrive across the Great Plains.Photos by Kaitlyn Dozler