We are used to seeing barbed wire fencing here out west and all over this nation.

But what if technology allowed us to replace it with something cheaper and more reliable?

Barbed wire was patented way back in 1867. In 1874, Joseph Glidden of De Kalb, Ill., invented the practical machine for its manufacture, and the innovation became widespread.

Suddenly it was easy and affordable to keep animals in a massive area.

But today a cow, for example, can wear an affordable device that will give the animal a warning and then a jolt if he nears a virtual fence.

Ranchers draw fence lines on their computers. That information is transmitted to collars that cattle wear. When those cows try to cross those virtual boundaries, they get a beep and then a shock.

This would save a lot of time and money in building and repairing fences. It would also allow any other animal, not domesticated, to move freely.

They can also tell where each cow is at any given time and study how the herd, or individuals, move around.

Ranchers can even use the program to move cattle from one area to another just by redrawing the fence line, forcing the animals to go where they are wanted to go.

Wyoming Rancher Monte Reed tried virtual fencing for a year. He said the technology did help with rotational grazing for their cattle in a pasture with limited fencing.

“Some years that hasn't been the case, because you put 60 head of steers out there in that pasture and they would go wherever they want to, which makes them nice and fat and you're selling them – so that's good,” Welsh said. “But for the ground and management of the grass and to benefit the grass to get better grass, that's really not the best.” (Wyoming Public Media).

Welsh said he did experience some downsides – one being collar failures.

“Water damage. I could add up how many callers I have that have a bad battery and because of water damage,” he said.

The cost was another negative. There is about a $12,000 start-up fee, plus a monthly subscription per cow. Reed said in the long run it could be cheaper than fencing because of the cost of labor and supplies. (Wyoming Public Media).

Nothing is perfect. Fencing has many problems. But iron out a few bugs and maybe this virtual fencing idea might just replace what we have been doing since 1874.

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