Could drones play a part in sheep management? – Australian trial underway

The use of drones in modern day farming is becoming increasingly popular and a trial is now underway in Australia to assess whether the hovering of a drone can replace the attentive eye of a farmer.

The ‘Drones for monitoring sheep welfare’ pilot project is being conducted by a Best Wool / Best Lamb group in Boort, Victoria.

Farm Weekly reports that the group’s aim is to figure out whether drones can replace a farmer in situations such as physically monitoring lambing ewes or making sure the water troughs are full, in turn saving time and money.

They believe farmers can spend a significant amount of time checking on the welfare of lambing ewes and during dry times, paddock inspections are crucial to check on water supplies, available pasture and stock health.

Agriculture Victoria livestock extension officer and trial coordinator Erica Schelfhorst said the trial was already producing some benefits.

Farmers tell me they’re growing increasingly confident in flying the drone and making decisions based on what they’re seeing on-screen.

She said exactly how much time the drones would save and whether they could truly replace the human experience, skill and know-how remained to be seen.

However, expectations were high just one year into the three-year demonstration project, which was first reported by Farm Online.

Drone upskilling

Erica Schelfhorst said that the jury may still be out but sheep producers were at least increasing their technical skill and knowledge, while testing the value of using drones in keeping a valuable eye on their animals’ welfare.

The project will continue until the end of 2021 when the results will be published.

Watch this video (below) – from Australia’s Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions – to see drone footage from the pilot project.

Drone usage in New Zealand

In other parts of the world, such as New Zealand, drones are taking on the jobs of sheepdogs in some parts – including the barking.

In north Canterbury, New Zealand, one beef and sheep farm uses drone technology to cut herding time drastically.

The drone can record sounds and play them – including a dog’s bark, meaning that the device can move stock, often faster than a dog.