Are you curious about our virtual fence project?
Our cows even made the front page of the Wall Street Journal! Click the link below to see more!
As we stay on the front side of new technology and data collection; we have been participating in a joint study with The Nature Conservancy, The National Park Service, Kansas State University, Colorado State University, and other local agencies studying the real world economic impact of virtual fence technology while also trying to maximize conservation of wildlife and waterways.
The underlying theme of the entire project is cooperation. The Flint Hills biome doesn’t stop at a fence line, and neither should management. Researchers have been able to expand their research areas to include streams and bird habitat on our ranch. We have been able to expand our grazable acres and have been able to implement huge changes to how we manage our fall herd. It’s a WIN WIN WIN for everyone.
For us, and your future herd bulls, we have been able to push back our actual weaning date and don’t pull the calves until around the middle of July when they are around 10 months of age. Due to the potency of Flint Hills grass in the summertime our fall cows used to get sloppy fat when turned out as dry cows. During this same time we were taking the fall calves and keeping them in the lot and feeding them through the summer to start their post-weaning development. We are now able to keep pairs together and transfer some of those pounds they achieved on grass to the calves. Last year we didn’t feed our fall calves a speck of grain until they were a year old. The outcome is healthier, stronger calves that know how to graze and get out and move on grass. Every fall pair on the ranch is now running together on The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, split between the bull and heifer calves.
As stewards of the land, we are always looking at our management practices and making sure that what we are doing is the right thing for the long-term use of the land. We are just the current occupants and want to make sure that the beauty of the Flint Hills are preserved for future generations. We see virtual fencing technology as the next tool to better manage the resources available to us.
We see enormous potential. With 5-wire barbwire fence costing over $10,000 a mile and poly-wire hot fence being labor intensive and unrealistic for large groups on big acreage, this opens up our ability to rotate graze, target different grass species during different times of the year, and give overworked areas a break. We can give areas with more palatable grasses a recovery period, pull out of feeding areas and corners that get trampled, and hold cattle off pond dams and streambeds to fight erosion.
Fire is also an enormously important tool for management in the Flint Hills and we are excited about utilizing the collars in conjunction with it for targeting woody species. The ability to increase fuel load to get a hot enough fire through the targeted area while still utilizing the grazing in the rest of the pasture lets us increase our days on pasture and overall grazing while still making sure that we can maintain the fragile warm-season ecosystem.
A massive part of this project is also studying what benefits we can have for other inhabitants of grasslands, in particular different bird species. It is vital that we learn the INTERACTIONS of livestock and wildlife on the prairie and not fall into a model of SEGREGATION. We are fortunate to be home to a small number of Greater Prairie Chicken and part of this project is aimed at increasing their habitat and helping the species population recover. Promoting healthier areas with lots of heterogeneity will not only benefit other members of the ecosystem we manage but also ultimately give us a more efficient and effective utilization of prairie. Researchers at Kansas State University will hopefully be able to quantify this and give our industry a true formula for regenerative agriculture as we move further into the 21st century.