Hereford cattle grazing on an ARS research range in Montana.

Grazing Cattle with Virtual Fencing Can Create Wildfire Fuel Breaks

Scientists from Oregon State University and USDA Agricultural Research Service conducted a study on the use of virtual fencing to manage cattle grazing on sagebrush rangelands to create fuel breaks. The researchers set up a 200-meter-wide by 3-kilometer-long fuel break in a roughly 1,000-acre pasture at OSU’s Northern Great Basin Experimental Range, with several water sources inside the area. The area was stocked with 16 cows and 23 cow/calf pairs for 30 days. The fuel-break area was bounded by a series of four virtual fences, each 35 meters apart, and all the cows wore collars. Researchers found that the cows without calves were more likely to stay in the fuel-break area, likely because when uncollared calves wandered outside the area, their mothers followed. The cows consumed 48.5% of the grass fuels inside the fuel break and only 5.5% of the grass fuels outside the fuel break. Additional research underway by the authors is evaluating the ability of virtual fencing to keep cattle out of riparian areas to protect critical salmon and steelhead spawning habitat. They also are studying the potential to mitigate wildfire risk by identifying high fuel load areas on rangelands through remote sensing and then strategically employing virtual fencing and grazing to meet fuel management objectives.
Related ATTRA Publication: Paddock Design, Fencing, Water Systems, and Livestock Movement Strategies for Multi-Paddock Grazing