Managing cattle with new technology

Virtual fencing could help ranchers meet new and old challenges

Use of public lands by outdoor enthusiasts has boomed in Chaffee County since the pandemic started. Many of these lands are leased to agricultural producers for grazing cows, and visitors are not always familiar with or respectful of ranching operations.

Challenges involve gates left open, fences cut, and damage to stock water tanks and the intricate irrigation systems needed to grow hay. Livestock have been chased by motorized users and uncontrolled dogs. Fast-paced growth in dispersed camping has significantly reduced grazing options. According to an Envision Chaffee County survey, these issues cost local ranchers around $100,000 a year.

Chaffee Common Ground has invested in a project managed by Central Colorado Conservancy, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, to pilot-test a new way to manage herds. Virtual fencing could potentially eliminate the need for barbed wire and the many hours of labor required to maintain fences. the technology uses a network of radio towers and programmable animal collars to set boundaries. 

The Conservancy purchased the first set of towers with Common Ground grant funding in the spring of 2022. The organization reports that local ranchers are excited to test not only the capacity to reduce conflicts between livestock and recreational land users, but also to protect riparian areas, target noxious weeds and mitigate wildfire risk.

While virtual fencing can’t replicate the value of a rancher riding out to check on a herd, it can help ranchers meet new and old challenges and ensure they will be tending to the land long into the future.