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Drones: Tools or Toys?

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Lynn Harlan

It started with a text. A fellow sheepman sent Bob a video of him gathering some ewes with his drone. Bob had drawn our daughter Kate in the Christmas present drawing, and he thought a drone would be a good gift. He asked the fellow sheepman to order the drone he would want. 

It came in a light, small box. We were all afraid to get it out for weeks. A lot of dollars for this? Kate was finally able to have time to get acquainted with this small, plastic “Star Wars” toy. She started out slowly, taking pictures of the place. 

The drone could go high and far. The battery only lasts about 30 minutes in the cold, and can’t be flown in winds above 15 to 18 miles per hour. 

Checking cows on the feedground, the drone makes a whine sound, sending my horses running off for high ground. 

Kate would gather a small bunch of ewes successfully, but she had trouble making the bucks move out. They just stared into the strange beast.   

We had to gather for shearing, which we did Easter weekend after the earlier snow. Kate was up on a rim, with Bob and I mounted on our four-wheelers far below. There were a bunch of ewes up in the nasty draws coming off the rim. I’d been up there plenty of times horseback, but it was really no place for a four-wheeler. 

Kate said she would try to bring them off with her drone. We couldn’t see the action, but soon came the bunch flying off the snow-covered thick sagebrush draws. We fell in behind them and it was a successful gather. 

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, have been used by the military for many years. The general public began to take notice of the drone when Amazon announced in 2013 it would begin using drones for delivery.

Since then, drone usage has evolved into hundreds of applications. Serious ones include search and rescue, where drones outfitted with thermal cameras can find lost people, and firefighters use them to find hot spots in a fire zone.  

Drones are an affordable “eye in the sky” and can show a situation quickly with less man power. They are used for inspections in confined spaces. 

The top 10 uses in agriculture include livestock monitoring and farm security, crop issues, looking at field conditions, pesticide spraying and seeding. Some larger drones are even used in crop hybridization, where the wind caused by the drone cross pollinates the crop. 

Some fun uses can be seen during the Super Bowl halftime shows or in the openings of the Olympic games. Hundreds of lighted drones are programmed to light up into words, logos and pictures in the sky with different colored lights.

On the news recently, I heard about a new “kamikaze drone.” It’s less than six months old, and it is being sent to Ukraine to help in their fight against the Russian invasion. It is a “one and done” drone targeting the long convoys of Russian tanks. It is hard to hear, almost impossible to see and can be sent by an operator on the ground to explode at the target. I hope it helps. 

There are issues with flying drones, such as invading privacy, trespassing, Federal Aviation Regulations and so forth, but for us, using the drone in our pastures to monitor our livestock, check water tanks and many other uses, we’ll stay legal. 

I was doing some research about drones in agriculture on YouTube and came across several shepherds in New Zealand using them. There are steep, grassy hills, especially on the South Island, which suit a drone gather. One Kiwi, who was afraid the sheep were becoming used to the “drone of the drone,” installed audio of dogs barking on his drone and it got the job done. 

Perhaps there may be a drone in your future!

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