Drones don't save time when it comes to monitoring ewes, a three-year trial has found.
The trial had a small sample pool and was conducted on properties around Boort in Victoria's Loddon Valley region.
Like many producers, the nine farmers that participated were interested in exploring how technology could be used to save time and reduce labour costs.
The trial looked at a number of areas including whether the use of a drone disturbed ewes and lambs and to what level, if the drone could pick up any welfare issues and measuring the time taken to check the flock.
It also explored whether using a drone saved farmers time and allowed for more frequent sheep welfare monitoring.
The trial was overseen by Agriculture Victoria livestock extension officer, Erica Schelfhorst.
"The camera on the drone was used in real-time, and video footage was analysed to determine drone speed, heights and clarity of picture," Ms Schelfhorst said.
"When the drone approached sheep slowly, they stayed calm when it was between 10 to 15 metres overhead but if the drone was travelling faster, it needed to be above 30m."
Ms Schelfhorst said one farmer found the drone very useful for checking irrigation channels and looking at how far the irrigation water had moved through a paddock.
Others used the drone to look at summer and winter pasture, fences, water troughs and dams, she said.
The trial used commercially available DJI Mavic, Phantom and GoPro drones, which weighed under two kilograms.
This category of drone does not require a licence to operate, however Civil Aviation Safety Authority regulations state the operator must always have a visual line-of-sight.
Farmers' line-of-sight in the study was up to one kilometre and it was found sheep acclimatised to the drones quite quickly.
The drones were flown at various heights depending on how the sheep reacted to the approaching device.
The study found using drones didn't save time checking on ewe welfare in large paddocks or multiple lambing paddocks spread across the farm.
However, the activities were able to be undertaken quickly and effectively with drones.
The ability to maintain line-of-sight and a battery life of about 20 minutes limited the ability to conduct welfare checks across large areas.
There are larger agricultural drones on the market, including the DJI Agras T30 and XAG V40, that have increased capacity but require training and a licence to operate.
Potential time and cost savings by using remote sensing and monitoring technology were not compared to the use of drones in the study.
The trial was conducted by the Boort BestWool/BestLamb group and Agriculture Victoria with co-funding from Meat & Livestock Australia.
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