High Flying Fun With Cows

Last weekend I had the opportunity to see a new hi-tech toy that has been changing a lot of things in agriculture–a drone. Not one of those cheapies from Walmart, but a decent one with an HD camera and a 1 mile range. Now I realize that the whole being a doctor thing increases the likelihood that I am a nerd to begin with, but I really geeked out over this thing like an astrophysicist finding…well…some really cool astrophysicist thingie.


Which of course had to involve us taking a picture of ourselves.

So what does a drone have to do with beef cattle? Actually, a lot more than one might think. Since cattle are spread out over a large area to graze, being able to check on them without physically going next to them can save time and fuel.

For example, in our pastures the ground is fairly hilly, so going to check every valley or draw a cow might be in can lead to extensive walking, riding or driving (usually the first two). By using a drone, the cows can be found and looked at to see if something needs to be addressed in person without taking your slippers off.


Those black dots on the hill are cows. We can get closer than that to really check on them.

We took a close look at a group of heifers with the drone. It wasn’t like we needed the drone, as they were by the house, but we wanted to see how they reacted to it. They were curious, but despite the noise they weren’t highly spooky of it.

In crop production, drones have really taken off (pun intended) for usage in checking the conditions of crops throughout a field. Does one area need a little more fertilizer, and one a little less? Send the drone over with the correct software and you can find out.

The problem for ranchers is although drones have a lot of potential, Federal Aviation Administration rules have hampered some of our usage of drones. Because drones are required to stay within the operator’s line of sight, cows strung out over large pastures that cover several miles will be too far away for drones to check them while still being visible to the operator. At this time that isn’t as big of a deal, as the range of the more affordable drones is only a mile or so, but as drones advance this will become a bigger deal.

In the meantime, it was cool to see how a drone can help make cattle ranching more efficient. Although it’s not in my budget this year, maybe some point in the future we’ll have to get one for the ranch.