THE uptake of drone technology to improve safety and efficiencies in cattle yards is a relatively new concept, but it is one that is being used by farm equipment supplier Thompson Longhorn.
Thompson Longhorn managing director Byron Wolff first looked at using drones in 2014 to help analyse a series of stockyards for one of his clients and spoke of their expanded use at the Farmsafe Virtual Conference 2020 recently.
"We had to collect a lot of data and observe what was happening with the people and the livestock in a fairly short period of time," Mr Wolff said.
"So that's when we investigated drones and went through the process of observing behaviour in cattle yards.
"We could get a bird's eye view and the livestock and operators weren't bothered by them.
"It gave us the opportunity to have a clear look at what was happening while people were operating in clear proximity to stock, make some observations and from that make some design and operational changes to their facilities."
Mr Wolff said, prior to drones, to achieve a view of cattle yards where there was no outside influence was difficult.
"An observer usually has to be fairly close to the action to see what's happening but drones allow us to be close to the action and not change the outcome of the behaviour," Mr Wolff said.
"It's very easy to see when an operator stands in a position that doesn't work well with the flow of livestock and it's fairly easy to make a simple change by moving their position or changing what they're doing and then observe the result."
Using drones reduces the interaction between livestock and people.
"To become more efficient we use less people in the cattle yard and we can only do that through clever design," Mr Wolff said.
"Clever design is able to happen because the drone enables us to make those observations."
Mr Wolff said the short feedback loop of drones was also useful, as it enabled clients to clearly observe why certain changes were required.
In recent years drones have been used across many sectors of agriculture, including improving crop efficiencies.
In one particular instance, Mr Wolff had an agronomist who was looking at water rates.
"There was one spot in the paddock where the centre pivot irrigator stopped and ran in this one area," he said.
"The yield in that area and the change in the crop was so obvious from the drone footage that we could work out that some of the agronomy wasn't quite right."
Queensland safety ambassador and farmer Shane Webcke said each year about 45 workers' compensation claims were accepted for workers who were injured around Australian stockyards or feedlots and half of those claims involved an injury where an employee required at least five days of leave.
"These injuries need to stop," Mr Webcke said.
Mr Webcke said the uptake of technology tended to go hand-in-hand with making jobs safer.
The pair discussed the viability of drones being used as a timing saving measure to manage and track feral pests such as wild pigs and dogs and plant pests in crops.
Looking to the future, Mr Wolff said he expected his business would be able to complete 3D augmentations of cattle yard designs by using data collected from a drone.
"We will give you a set of glasses and you will walk through the yard and see how the design fits in and get a really good appreciation of what that design would look like finished," Mr Wolff said.
- While Australia's work safety laws encourage the use of drones to reduce workers safety risks, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has the overall responsibility for drone regulation in Australia. Contact CASA to discuss the regulations and legislation surrounding commercial drone use.