Dr. John Walker of Texas A&M AgriLife has been experimenting with drones as a grazing management tool. He’s used drones to check fences, move livestock, and to search for missing animals. He can even imagine having a grazing plan where you use the drone to herd animals from pasture to pasture.
This 2:44 minute video gives you a good “Drone’s-Eye-View of moving animals, and Walker describes some of the challenges and the future uses he sees for drones.
Walker’s vision of ranching with drones could mean less time and fuel spent on daily chores. He says, “I think the off-the-shelf models could probably do some practical time-saving things for people, particularly if you’ve got a rough old ranch with two-track roads that take forever to get around on to check water. You could go up to the top of a hill and if you’ve gone to that trough before, you can fly that drone about 40 miles an hour and it doesn’t take it long to go a mile and check that trough. You can see what that trough looks like through the drone’s camera lens without worrying or spending half a day to get there and back.
Limitations Walker has noted include short battery life limiting flight time to about 25 minutes. Obstacles like trees and brush can pose problems as well, but as you see in the video, with a little practice he figured out how to use the drone to move livestock on brushy terrain. Alternatively you can look for a model that is designed to avoid trees and other hazards. You can also expect to deal with screen glare on your smartphone or tablet. To get over that, Walker will be testing the practicality of “virtual flight goggles. These goggles give you a drone’s eye view without the need for another screen.
“I just think they have a lot of potential,” he said. “Right now they are still kind of a toy, but it’s a fun and potentially useful toy. There’s worse things you could spend your time and money on that have a lot less potential.”
What’s the Right Drone for You?
If you’re thinking of adding a drone to your Christmas wish list, here are some tips for what to look for.
Walker suggests you “buy a cheap one, a toy, and learn to fly it before you buy an expensive one.” If you do that, keep in mind that the toy drones are cheaper because they lack some of the features that make a more expensive one easier to guide and fly. Walker’s first drone was about $75. He’s now moved on to a DJI Phantom 3. Folks in the know consider it the best drone for video quality at an entry level price. It’s well buil, very easy to fly and can travel up to a half mile away from the controller. You can check it out here:
This model has GPS which means you can turn off the controller and it will return to the place it took off. You can also use phone or tablet apps to program it to fly routes. That way you don’t have to do all the flying yourself.
Maybe one of the best things about using a drone to help you farm or ranch is that it’s something your kids will be enthusiastic about. Walker said that a rancher that came to one of his demos called his son right away who was really excited to get started!
Let us know what you think and how you use this new technology.