Faculty Mentor Name: Juliana Ranches
Faculty Mentor Department: Animal and Rangeland Science - EOARC (Burns)
Traditional fencing is expensive, timing consuming, and often delayed by procedural and logistical barriers (e.g., NEPA, archeological clearances, contracting, etc.). Recent technology using behavioral modification based on GPS-activated shock collars (i.e. virtual fencing) may offer a less expensive and less logistically challenging alternative to traditional fencing as well as allow grazing to occur on the unburned portions of burned pastures in the absence of additional fencing.
Virtual fencing can be defined as a structure serving as an enclosure, a barrier, or a boundary without a physical barrier. Usually, animals in virtual fencing receive an auditory warning cue followed by an electric stimulus if they trespass the determined boundary (Umstatter, 2011). A recent study conducted in Europe (Campbell et al., 2018) demonstrated that virtual fences are highly effective at keeping heifers at designated locations after heifers were trained to respond to the GPS-activated shock collars. However, it has been observed in other studies (Lee et al., 2009) a high variation in how individual animals respond to cues, including animals that shows undesirable responses as running forward after an electric stimulus.
We hypothesized that GPS-activated shock collars will be an efficient tool for cattle being managed in rangeland. Thus, our intent is to test the efficacy of this technology for excluding cattle from specific areas, such as burned areas. Additionally, cattle behavior and performance data while on virtual fencing is scarce and therefore will be evaluated in this study.
The Job - Project Description
The main objective of this study is to determine the efficacy of GPS-activated shock collars for excluding cattle from burned sagebrush steppe. A second objective of this study is to evaluate cattle behavior, and performance when using GPS-activated shock collars.
Cattle Conditioning: Cattle (dry cows) will be conditioned to GPS-activated shock collars during the spring of 2020. In order to condition and accurately measure cattle learning behavior two tests will be conducted using 12 naÃ¯ve cows. Cows that successfully learn how to positively respond the GPS-activated shock collars will be subsequently used in the grazing trial. Tests will be performed in a testing arena where an attractant will be positioned in different locations (exclusion areas) to stimulate cattle displacement within the testing arena. Prior to the beginning of each test cows will be familiarized with the testing area. Each test will be performed at least three times for each individual cow. Each repetition of the test is called session, which will last 10 minutes. We will consider that cows were successfully conditioned (i.e to not cross/enter the exclusion area) when measures taken at the initial session to the final session differ by approximately 75%. For example, if a cow received 10 sensory cues during the initial to, she will be considered successfully conditioned if at the final session she receives 2.5 or less sensory cues.
Grazing Trial: This portion of the study will employ a single factor randomized block design, with two treatments, replicated 3 times (i.e. 3 blocks) during the mid-growing season 2020. Experimental units will be adjacent 5-acre pastures located in big sagebrush steppe at the Northern Great Basin Experimental Range near Riley, Oregon. Treatments will be non-activated shock collars and activated shock collars set to exclude animals from the burned portion of a pasture. Vegetation within pastures consists primarily of a native perennial bunchgrass understory (Stipa spp., Pseudoroegneria spicata, Poa secunda), and an overstory dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis). Behavior data will be compared between cattle using non-activated shock collars and cattle using activated shock collars to evaluate if sensory cues provided by the collar will change cattle behavior. Behavioral data will be collected at cow's placement in each designated pasture and on days 1, 2, 3 after being placed in the pasture. Live behavioral observations will be conducted by 2 trained observers from 0800 to 1200 h and from 1300 to 1700 h using instantaneous scan sampling strategy, which will result in 8 scan observations per group per day. Behavior will be recorded using the same measures used during the "Conditioning Phase" and also based on a pre-established ethogram considering the following activities: stand, walk, ruminate, drink, rest, play, grooming, allogrooming, agonistic behavior, and animal-environment interactions. Additionally, collars will be set to record cattle location, which will provide data to estimate time spent near to virtual fencing, cattle attempt to move out of the virtual fencing limits, and time spent out of the virtual fencing limits.
To determine percent utilization of standing herbaceous biomass we will clip unburned herbaceous biomass every 3 days during the trial within 10 randomly located 1m2 quadrants in each pasture; dry sample weights will be compared to those of ungrazed (from small utilization cages) vegetation.
Description of work environment
The study will be conducted at the EOARC during the summer of 2020.
The EOARC is one of the branch experimental stations of OSU, which is located in Burns (eastern Oregon). Here the student will have the opportunity to interact with other students, as well as range scientists and technicians as the EOARC also house scientists from USDA and TNC, providing the student with great opportunity to enhance the network.
Description of Student Responsibilities
The study will be conducted at the EOARC (Burns, OR) during the summer of 2020. The study will be conducted in two parts, (1) Cattle conditioning and (2) Grazing Trial.
During part (1) the student will be responsible for cattle training to the use of GPS collars and will be responsible for collecting all the animal behavior data. In part (2) the student will be responsible for collecting animal behavior data and also forage consumption data.
No pre-existing skills are required. A student participating in this research project will gain skills in cattle management and handling. Additionally, students will be able to gain skills in the use of technologies (GPS Collar) in the livestock industry, which is an area of great development.
It is anticipated that the student responsible for the behavioral data collection will improve knowledge towards beef cattle behavior and welfare. Additionally, it is expected that great knowledge regarding the use of new technologies in livestock operation will be obtained.
Expected start and end date: May/June 2020
Anticipated hours per week: 20
Anticipated hourly wage: $13