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SDSU leads precision ranching technology

SDSU researchers are exploring the potential for precision technologies to improve ranch efficiency and producer decision-making processes, and in turn impact profit margins, work-life balance, ranch sustainability and natural resource management. Through its Precision Ranching Initiative, SDSU researchers are both using and creating new technologies and techniques that fine-tune the role of beef cattle in the range ecosystem for the benefit of South Dakota’s nearly 14,000 beef producers.

Kristi Cammack
Jameson Brennan

Led by Kristi Cammack, associate professor and director of the West River Research and Extension, and Jameson Brennan, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science and SDSU Extension livestock grazing specialist, the goal of the precision ranching research is to provide rangeland beef cattle producers with the tools and knowledge needed to incorporate technologies into their enterprises so they can apply regenerative management practices to improve ranch sustainability and enhance work-life balance. Researchers at SDSU are leading innovative research due, in part, to the acquisition of technologies designed for grazing livestock. These technologies are being integrated into the SDSU Cottonwood Field Station located near Philip.

Cottonwood is home to a long-term grazing trial in which pastures have historically been maintained at low-density, average-density and high-density stocking rates. With 80 years of recorded pasture stocking density data, the station provides comparisons related to a changing environment that has seen drought, flooding and rising ambient temperatures.

This long established research record, combined with its location, make Cottonwood an ideal home for precision ranching work. New technology at Cottonwood includes virtual fencing for better rotational grazing, precision feeding equipment to deliver and monitor individual animal consumption, methane and carbon dioxide measuring systems to estimate greenhouse gas exchange of pasture-based animals, and drones to assess forage quality and quantity in real time.

Researchers are also leading the creation of new technologies, such as sensor technology to enable remote monitoring of water sources with the purpose of working together and helping inform decision-making for complex range beef systems.