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The long-term goal of this research is to provide agricultural producers and professionals with new knowledge and tools to implement precision livestock management and improve animal welfare, increase productivity, enhance adaptive management approaches, and maximize economic viability. The objective of this proposal is to determine the effects of VF technology, an increasingly prominent precision livestock management tool, on animal welfare, livestock management, and economic viability in the context of environmentally diverse southwestern rangelands. The availability of precision livestock management tools, especially VF, is rapidly increasing, but many of these tools have not been rigorously tested for their effects on animal health and welfare, utility for implementation in the context of complex real world grazing management systems, or economic practicality for typical livestock producers. The arid and semi-arid deserts and grasslands of the southwest are a particularly challenging environment for livestock management, requiring complex management strategies in response to high temporal and spatial variability in precipitation, limited forage, and difficult terrain. These conditions may both challenge VF technologies, or enhance the potential benefits of their effective implementation. As southwest rangelands are significantly different than other western or Great Plains rangeland systems, VF results in other locations may not apply in the southwest. The central hypothesis of the proposed research is that application of advanced precision livestock management through use of VF will improve the sustainability of southwestern ranches by improving animal welfare, increasing the provision of ecosystem services, and enhancing the economic viability of ranch operations.To accomplish our objective and test our hypotheses, we will (a) conduct fieldwork to measures animal welfare and rangeland condition (b) conduct economic analysis of costs and benefits and a survey of ranchers to determine viability and perception of VF technology, and (c) conduct comprehensive outreach and extension programing with ranchers and agency staff to share research results. In doing so, we pursue four project aims and related hypotheses:Aim 1: Precision livestock management and animal welfare. To determine the effectiveness of VF as an animal management tool, we assess direct animal welfare responses of interaction with VFs and the effectiveness of VF for grazing cattle managementH1: Virtual fencing has negative short-term effects on livestock stress and welfare because of negative interactions with VF during training and capture periodsH2: Virtual fencing has positive long-term effects on animal welfare because managers can more precisely plan time and place of grazing as well as implement management dependent on animal exclusion (e.g., fence line weaning, multiple herds, etc.)Aim 2: Use of VF for rangeland condition and conservation. To determine the effectiveness of VF as a tool to improve rangeland condition and sustainability, we assess its impact on the production of ecosystem services: forage, plant biodiversity, soil health, and beef production.H3: Use of VF for adaptive livestock and rangeland management increases the production of key ecosystem servicesAim 3: Socio-Economic Viability. To determine if VF is a feasible and practical economic strategy for southwestern producers, we will assess the direct and indirect economic costs and benefits of VF adoption and the social acceptability of the technology to ranchersH4: Virtual fencing results in positive long-term returns on investment per animal unit and per pound of beef produced, even if short-term returns are negativeH5: Ranchers have a positive view of VF as a management tool, but willingness to adopt is affected by economic considerationsAim 4: Outreach and education. To share VF research, we will provide multiple training opportunities designed to increase economic and ecological sustainability of ranching by introducing precision livestock management for animal and land management. This series will increase the knowledge, skills, and capacity of producers, Cooperative Extension professionals, agencies, and non-governmental organizations to evaluate and implement VF technologies.

Lien, A. M.; Ruyle, GE, B..; Soto, JO, R.; Beard, JO, .
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