July 5, 1998 | By: Randy Weckman

What B.F. Skinner did with rats in a laboratory in Minneapolis in the 1920s, Larry Turner, University of Kentucky agricultural engineer, is doing with cattle sporting satellite collars in Kentucky in 1998. Turner is studying animal behavior, specifically cattle's grazing behavior.

Turner, along with graduate student Mike Udahl, is researching movement patterns of cattle in pastures throughout the day and night. The satellite collars monitor each animal's precise location in the pasture at five-minute intervals.

The collar, which weighs less than two pounds, is equipped with a computer circuit board and data storage unit. The collar "reads" signals sent by satellites far in space, that very precisely locate the animal in the pasture.

The research will help find out just how widely cattle graze within a field, especially in relation to water and shade. The location of water and shade, as well as paddock size profoundly influence animal pasture usage and grazing patterns, Turner said.

"Cattle often graze only portions of a pasture, leaving great stretches of grass untouched and underutilized. This research will help us design pastures that cattle will utilize more efficiently," Turner said.

The study, which still is in the early phases, already has yielded interesting data for Udahl

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and Turner.

The two have found that the cattle don't stray far from water and shade to do their grazing. And, curiously enough, the cattle may have some sort of built in clock that tells them when to settle down for sleep.

"Our data in May showed that, like clockwork, the cattle moved to the place where they were to spend the night at precisely 6:40 every night. And their sleeping spot was always the same. Just what prompts the cattle to behave in this manner is a matter of speculation," Turner said.

While Turner's research will help farmers design more efficient grazing pastures, the technology he's using may lend itself to a variety of other studies concerning the behavior of animals in their natural environment.

"The global positioning collars, which cost about $4,500 each, allow researchers to monitor minute-to-minute animal behavior precisely. In the past, such research depended on people charting their movements manually, which is quite labor intensive and may be less accurate," Turner said.

Currently, the research is focused on finding out how often the animal's location needs to be recorded to give an accurate analysis of its movement.

"We hope to expand this research into looking at how terrain and other environmental variables influence cattle behavior," Turner said.

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Contact: 

Writer: Randy Weckman Source: Larry Turner

(606) 257-3937 (606) 257-3000