The Rangeland Journal The Rangeland Journal Society
Rangeland ecology and management
REVIEW (Open Access)

Virtual herding for flexible livestock management – a review

Dean M. Anderson A D , Rick E. Estell A , Jerry L. Holechek B , Shanna Ivey B and Geoffrey B. Smith C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A USDA-ARS-Jornada Experimental Range, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA.

B Department of Animal and Range Sciences, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA.

C Department of Biology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM 88003, USA.

D Corresponding author. Email: deanders@nmsu.edu

The Rangeland Journal 36(3) 205-221 https://doi.org/10.1071/RJ13092
Submitted: 5 September 2013  Accepted: 22 May 2014   Published: 26 June 2014

Abstract

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 hoof-print’. Advancements in global navigation satellite system, geographic information systems, and electronic/computing technologies, coupled with improved understanding of animal behaviour, positions virtual fencing (VF) as an increasingly attractive option for managing free-ranging livestock. VF 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 labour will be replaced in large part with cognitive labour 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, maximising 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.

Additional keywords: grazing systems, hoof-action, livestock management, paddocks, pastures, plant–animal interface, rumen dynamics, stocking rate.


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