Faculty Mentor Name: Juliana Ranches
BES Facility Name: Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center (EOARC)
Location (town name) of BES Facility: Burns (Harney County)
Specific Duration Details: This study will begin in mid-late may and will be conducted until mid-August.
Student Hourly Salary: $12/hr
Expected Hours/Week: Minimum of 20 hours and a maximum of 40 hours.
Hourly Working Parameters: It may be necessary to check the cows during the weekends, but not animal training/activity will be required.
Housing Benefit: Housing is available at the EOARC. Our facility has two smaller houses and one bunkhouse. Summer is the busiest season at EOARC, which permits the student to increase her/his network as she/he will interact with scientists and technicians working at OSU, USDA/ARS and The Nature Conservancy for example.
Each year wildfires burn millions of acres of western US rangeland. Much of this area is within public domain rangeland, generally sagebrush steppe. On publically-managed lands, grazing restrictions generally dictate that burned sagebrush rangeland cannot be grazed for a period of 2 years following fire. Grazing livestock are attracted to burned areas and may overutilize plants within these areas and slow recovery from burning. If a portion of a pasture burns, that pasture is either excluded from grazing for the two-year period, or temporary fencing has to be constructed to exclude the burned portion. 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, 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.
With this study we aim to answer the following questions:
What will be the required training for cattle to learn how to positively respond to the GPS-activated shock collars?
Will the use of GPS-activated shock collars in any way hurt cattle performance and behavior? If so, will the observed changes in cattle performance and behavior be short-termed or will it have long term consequences?
Tests will be conducted to evaluate the cattle behavior when using the GPS collar. The main responsibility of the student will be to conduct these testing as well as to evaluate the cattle behavior. Briefly, Cattle (dry cows) will be conditioned to GPS-activated shock collars during the May of 2020. In order to condition and accurately measure cattle learning behavior two tests will be conducted using 12 na√Øve 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.
Two main tests will be conducted before the grazing trial:
Test 1: How will cows react to virtual fencing? In this first test, we will evaluate how cattle will react to the first exposure to virtual fencing. At the beginning of test 1 each cow will be brought to the testing arena (figure 1) individually and will be allowed to move freely around the testing arena (virtual fencing turned off). until the cow locates the attractant (feed). Time spent to locate the attractant will be measure (latency to approach the feed). As soon as the cow finds the attractant, the cow will be removed from the testing arena and placed in a holding area. Virtual fencing will be turned on to protect the attractant creating an exclusion area. The cow will be released into the testing arena again. At this time, we will measure time spent at the exclusion area, number of audio and electric cues given by the collar and cattle behavior. Reaction to virtual fencing will be recorded using a video camera and annotated by two observers using pre-established behavioral reactions: Stop, Turn to the side, Turn 360¬∞ Walk forward, Trot forward, Run forward, Turn around and walk back, Turn around and trot back, Turn around and run back (Campbell et al., 2018). Virtual fence boundary will be physically determined by paint to allow the observer to capture behavioral data.
Test 2: How the previous experience with the virtual fencing will affect cattle behavior? In this second test, we will evaluate how cattle behave towards a new exclusion area and how cattle will behave in the area that was previously specified as an exclusion area (figure 2). This test will be performed very similarly to test 1, however a new exclusion area will be designated within the testing arena. All measurements taken in test 1 will be taken in test 2. Additionally, to understand If cattle will associate a previously established exclusion area as a place that cannot be visited again (negative association) we will evaluate cattle behavior and interaction with the exclusion area established in test 1. Time spent in the previous exclusion area, as well as, activities as stand, walk, rest, play and grooming will be recorded by video camera and two observers.
Preferred Skills/Experience: It is preferred students that have been in contact with cattle before, and know-how to handle them. No preferred skill/experience is needed regarding behavioral observations. The students will be trained at EOARC to conduct the behavior tests.
Student Learning Outcomes:
Students will learn how to handle cattle appropriately, how to evaluate behavior, how to use a brand new technology, and will learn about the challenges of grazing public lands. Further, they will learn about the components of scientific methods while conducting research.
They will also have the opportunity to network with scientists and technicians from OSU, USDA/ARS, and The Nature Conservancy.
Project Objectives: 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.