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Virtual fencing is a possible alternative for Wyoming cattle producers

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Agriculture industry leaders in the state got together to discuss new technology for cattle producers at a recent Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation conference.

A main topic was virtual fencing, which is a relatively new concept. Basically, ranchers draw fence lines on their computers, which are transmitted to collars that cattle wear. When those cows cross the virtual boundary, they get a beep and then a shock.

Justin Welsh is the executive director of U.S. livestock technical services at Merck Animal Health, and he is helping deploy the product. He said it is geared toward rotational grazing.

“You can keep cattle out of areas that you don't want to have too much traffic for erosion,” Welsh said. “You can keep them or guide them to areas where the forage potentially is better, or you want to graze it down.”

Welsh added that the benefits are less time and money spent building fences and not having physical block ways for wildlife.

Monte Reed spoke at the conference and is a rancher in Converse County who tried virtual fencing for a year. He said the technology did help with rotational grazing for their cattle in a pasture with limited fencing.

“Some years that hasn't been the case, because you put 60 head of steers out there in that pasture and they would go wherever they want to, which makes them nice and fat and you're selling them – so that's good,” Reed said. “But for the ground and management of the grass and to benefit the grass to get better grass, that's really not the best.”

Reed said he did experience some downsides – one being collar failures.

“Water damage. I could add up how many collars I have that have a bad battery and because of water damage,” he said.

Cost was another negative. There is about a $12,000 start up fee, plus a monthly subscription per cow. Reed said in the long run it could be cheaper than fencing because of the cost of labor and supplies.

**This story has been updated Nov. 30 to reflect that Monte Reed testified about his experience using the virtual fencing collars on his cattle, not Justin Welsh.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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