Monitoring Livestock Using GIS

Mark Altaweel


For many regions around the world, livestock are a critical part of the economy that necessitates close management of the animals and surrounding landscape used by them. Particularly in regions where cattle and other livestock roam, understanding roaming behavior and numbers of livestock requires close spatial monitoring. The integration of GPS, monitoring of vegetation, and long-term monitoring of movement patterns of cattle has been important for areas heavily dependent on economically optimal numbers of animals for herds.[1]

Using GIS to Understand the Role that Livestock Play in Climate Change

More recent studies have been concerned with the role that livestock play in global warming through the release of methane. In this case, methane emissions, including its quantity and distribution, shows strong links with larger herds.[2] Nitrogen released into soils are also another potential hazard that can pollute water. Different livestock species, including swine, cattle, sheep, and goats, have differential effects. GIS tools, such as ValorE  using .NET, are used as web-based monitoring and analysis tools that allow stakeholders to assess potential damage by herds based on animal, vegetation, landscape, and other factors.[3]

N2O emission map. Map: Merino, et. al, 2011.
N2O emission map. Map: Merino, et. al, 2011.

GIS and Estimating Biofuel

On the other hand, livestock are not just a source for detrimental emissions but can also produce manure that can be used as biofuels. Quantitative modeling and estimates for livestock spatial ranges, numbers, and quality of feed have helped to produce estimates for how much biogas production is possible. This is particularly useful for countries that depend heavily on livestock but have limited natural gas resources or other sources that can be used for energy.[4]

Forecasted path of biogas potential from the available livestock manures in Greece. From: Batzias, Sidiras, & Spirou, 2005.
Forecasted path of biogas potential from the available livestock manures in Greece. From: Batzias, Sidiras, & Spirou, 2005.


[1] For more on using GPS data and livestock management, see: Turner, L.W., M.C. Udal, B. T. Larson, and S.A. Shearer. 2000. “Monitoring Cattle Behavior and Pasture Use with GPS and GIS.” Canadian Journal of Animal Science 80 (3): 405–13. doi:10.4141/A99-093.

[2] For an example of methane monitoring for herds in relation to global warming, see:  Merino, P., E. Ramirez-Fanlo, H. Arriaga, O. del Hierro, A. Artetxe, and M. Viguria. 2011. “Regional Inventory of Methane and Nitrous Oxide Emission from Ruminant Livestock in the Basque Country.” Animal Feed Science and Technology 166-167 (June): 628–40.

[3] For more on livestock monitoring using ValorE:  Acutis, Marco, Lodovico Alfieri, Andrea Giussani, Giorgio Provolo, Andrea Di Guardo, Stefania Colombini, Gianpaolo Bertoncini, et al. 2014. “ValorE: An Integrated and GIS-Based Decision Support System for Livestock Manure Management in the Lombardy Region (northern Italy).Land Use Policy 41 (November): 149–62. doi:10.1016/j.landusepol.2014.05.007.

[4] For more on biogas potential and livestock monitoring using GIS, see:  Batzias, F.A., D.K. Sidiras, and E.K. Spyrou. 2005. “Evaluating Livestock Manures for Biogas Production: A GIS Based Method.” Renewable Energy 30 (8): 1161–76. doi:10.1016/j.renene.2004.10.001.


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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

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