Drones: a New Tool for Ranching
With the recent FAA regulations loosening on commercial drone pilot licenses, ranchers are finding new ways to incorporate drones into their operations to save time and money. Since their release, ranchers have been finding innovative ways to use the remote controlled flying cameras. Early on, ranchers used them to locate lost stock and to check fencing and watering tanks, saving time on the ATV. These methods are especially valuable in rough terrain and avoiding snow for hard to reach places on the ranch.
In terms of downsides, drones are still relatively expensive, easy to crash, and require some ramp-up to get used to operating. Most of the models available have limited battery life (within 25 minutes), but cost of this technology is coming down and will only get better over time.
Now, emerging innovations such as software that saves the flight paths of frequently flown routes on the ranch can make checking herds in a far pasture a quick task. More recently, ranchers have been experimenting with letting the drones do the herding. Some drones have even been stocked with thermal cameras to locate cattle in the far reaches of the ranch- taking the guesswork out of herding. While it is unlikely that drones will replace the stockmanship skills and years of training of the rancher behind the remote, using a drone as an "extra eye" can be a big time saver for busy ranchers.
Watch the video to see how one Australian rancher has integrated it into his operation.
Like every technology, drones are another tool to add to the rancher's toolbox for experimentation. Seasoned grazing innovator Bob Kinford is finding new ways to use drone technology to pass on his low stress stockmanship techniques. Bob plans to use overhead drone videos to record his methods on horseback for re-instilling "herd instinct" without the use of fencing for other ranchers to learn from his experience.
In Texas, Christopher Gill of Circle Ranch used drones to capture overhead videos on his ranch to showcase their methods for maximizing water capture in arid rangeland, and to show results on habitat and wildlife restoration. See Circle Ranch's educational video here.