Improving Technology in the Agriculture Sector
College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Student Researcher Works on Prototype to ‘Fence’ Cattle
Chanelle Brusseau found her love for agriculture on her family farm in Caldwell. Her family had a variety of livestock, including cattle, goats and horses. The family also farmed their own crops and hay.
Growing up surrounded by generations of agricultural roots and a passion for being outside, Brusseau knew she wanted to pursue a career in the cattle industry before attending the University of Idaho.
Brusseau, a senior studying animal and veterinary science and microbiology, is working on a collaborative project that connects faculty and students from the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Natural Resources and Engineering. Brusseau’s research is supervised by faculty members Gordon Murdoch and Karen Launchbaugh.
The goal of Brusseau’s project is to create a prototype for virtual fencing, which could replace standard cattle fences by using devices to administer an electrical pulse when animals cross a defined virtual barrier. The implementation of these fences would save ranchers time, money and labor associated with fencing large areas of rangelands.
“Cattle are very simple,” the 21-year-old Brusseau said. “They are extremely responsive to complex and continuously repeated systems, and the majority of a herd learn the new concepts, usually within just a couple of days, which should make implementation of a virtual fence relatively easy and highly applicable.”
The ultimate goal of Brusseau’s project is to design a virtual fence to protect some areas from heavy livestock grazing. The fence, she said, needs to be designed so it is easy to implement and affordable for the ranchers.
Virtual fencing will not be useful on every ranch, Brusseau said, but the system should be adaptable for certain situations depending on the amount of cattle, their breed, ages and how small or large the grazing area is.
The prototype designed by the team is a nose device with pads that gently rest on the inside of the animal’s nose. The device provides an electrical pulse to the cattle to keep them in a designated area. Improvements are being made to the prototype to ensure there is no inflammation or irritation of the animal’s nose as a result of its use, Brusseau said.
Different materials are being tested for the device itself to ensure the animals’ comfort and that it does not interfere with their daily activities.
The team of students and professors completed background research on the project using U of I cattle. The project is approved under the protocol of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee to ensure animal welfare is upheld.
M-o-o-vers and Shakers
Brusseau said one of her biggest responsibilities throughout this project has been communicating with her family and fellow ranchers nationwide to gain input on the prototype and how they see it applying to their herds. Some individuals have expressed interest in the prototype as a way to improve their own operations and the ranching industry as a whole.
“I love working to help ranchers and to improve agriculture to meet the needs of the growing world,” Brusseau said. “It is an industry with very limited technology, and virtual fencing is one way to help ranchers expand their ways of life but still stay traditional.”
Brusseau said consumer opinions dramatically affect the market. When consumers take it upon themselves to learn about the lifestyles, techniques and technologies farmers and ranchers are using, they tend to be more knowledgeable, understanding and even more accepting of agriculture.
“The consumer has a direct effect on ranchers’ practices. It’s that simple and powerful,” Brusseau said.
I love working to help ranchers and to improve agriculture to meet the needs of the growing world.
ANIMAL AND VETERINARY SCIENCE STUDENT
Even though she has been involved with the agriculture and livestock industry since childhood, Brusseau said she is always learning about the field and will continue to do so.
“Since this project is so interdisciplinary, I’ve learned a lot outside of my areas of study and personal experience with my own cattle herd,” Brusseau said, having learned about material to build the nose devices and becoming familiar with electrical coding and signaling. “Students should pursue research opportunities because it is hands-on, which allows them to learn more and get better at what they’re interested in.”
Article by Allison Spain, a senior from Boise, who is studying journalism and International Studies.
Photos by Nawanont Richard Pathomsiri, a junior from Bangkok, Thailand, and Bismarck, North Dakota, who is studying film and television and marketing.
Chanelle Brusseau is an OUR Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship recipient.
Published in March 2020.