I was recently asked to come up with a list of current and emerging technologies which I think are or will be important as we go forward into the future of rangeland and grazing management. While there is a plethora to choose from, a few select technologies that are in current use or being researched stood out to me as worthy of discussion.
Of the technological advancements we have seen in the past 30 years or so, geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) have by far been some of the most influential in rangeland management. These technologies have given land managers the ability to map large tracts of land, record important data at key locations, and provide for an effective means of referencing this data at a later point in time.
ArcGIS and ESRI have been the standards in GIS/GPS software for government agency range and conservation managers. In addition, an increase in freeware programs that are both easy to use and affordable (little to no cost), such as Google Earth, are allowing more and more ranchers to use this technology for recording keeping and ranch mapping on their own operations.
Mobile applications for use in mapping, grazing and general cattle management seem to be becoming more and more popular as well. The American Angus Association developed an app to allow its membership ease of access inputting data into their online record keeping system and to news, sale reports and show results.
In addition, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has developed apps to assist in determining body condition and udder-teat scoring of beef cattle. What I have yet to see is an effective mobile app for grazing management. Currently, all that is on the market is an app known as farmGRAZE, developed by scientists and farming experts in the United Kingdom.
As we head into the future, electronic identification (EID) tags may play a useful role in grazing management. At the ranch I worked at last fall in Idaho, a Gallagher weighing and EID system were used as a method of tracking average daily gains on pasture by weighing cattle at the beginning and end of the grazing period. In addition systems of this kind can be used for monitoring animal health and evaluating performance for genetic selection.
While most might not think of this remote video surveillance may also prove to be a valuable tool in range and grazing management in the future. At a recent field day I attended in Laramie, WY, one of the ranchers explained how she uses remote video surveillance to monitor flows and levels of water in tanks throughout her ranch. Video cameras were programmed to take a photo of the water tank at specified times of the day. Photos were then uploaded and sent via email though a cellular connection to the owner's computer. While this isn't ideal for ranches in extremely remote locations, as cellular coverage improves, we may see these kinds of technologies becoming more and more useful.
Last, invisible or virtual fencing is a technology that seems to keep coming back up in conversation when it comes to advancements in grazing management. The current technology works much like the invisible fencing systems used for dogs requiring cattle to wear GPS head units that use beeps and a light shock when cattle approach boundary lines to deter them from crossing. I shared my thoughts on virtual fencing in an earlier blog post back in mid-February. While I am still not sold on its practicality, given enough time, there is the possibility this technology could also become a game changer if it is affordable and safe to use.
The technologies mentioned, in addition to the many I did not discuss, have indeed brought about beneficial changes and advancements in the way we are able to manage our range and grazing lands. These technologies will likely remain a vital component of our management strategies as we head into the future.
In addition, there are likely many more in the works that I am not even aware of yet. In either case, we must continue to critically think and strategize about our use and application of these amazing management tools, keeping our intended goals for the whole in mind at all times.