Shepherds using drones to help herd their flocks

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In New Zealand, Britain, and Australia, some shepherds are turning to drones for extra help. The aerial devices have proven to be effective for keeping flocks moving in the right direction.

New Zealand farmer, Corey Lambeth, initially purchased a drone for play, rather than for profession. Lambeth thought it would be fun to capture aerial footage of his flock when he realized the drone had more practical applications. “I thought, ‘I’ll just give it a nudge on the sheep and see what that goes like’ and it actually worked out quite well.” 

Three years later, he is still using drones to muster his flocks. For the most part, the animals respond predictably and appropriately to the all-too-familiar buzz of flying drones. Rather than rely on dogs or additional manpower, drones can help address mustering challenges that exist in certain regions.

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They are especially valuable in mountainous terrain, where traveling by foot isn’t always easy. In countries like New Zealand, drones can keep flocks organized as they pass over rocky hills and jagged paths. Without drones, it can take several dogs, a handful of shepherds, and a lot more time to get the same job done. Two men and a drone can now handle large flocks with ease. 

Born Out of Experimentation

However, it’s taken some time to get to this point. Jason Rentoul, another farmer from New Zealand, learned what his peers were doing from watching YouTube videos. Rentoul decided to purchase a drone and give aerial mustering a try. Early on, he lost drones to several unfortunate accidents, one to water damage and another to a wine bottle transport flight that went poorly.

Over time, Rentoul learned how to pilot and found that drones are particularly effective for deer and cattle. Drones can fly faster than deer and aren’t intimidated (obviously) by larger animals. Sheepdogs, on the other hand, have trouble keeping up with deer at their top speeds and can get pushed around by aggressive livestock.

Farmers who still use dogs have found that their canine partners work well with drones. Dogs can quickly find and return to flocks by following the sound of the drones. Some also feel safer around drones in the face of aggressive cattle or stags.

According to Rentoul, flocks can grow too accustomed to having drones around and stop responding the way they should. Some farmers have innovated in response by recording dog barks and playing them through their drones to keep flocks on their toes. Others drop “treats” from their devices to help the animals associate drone buzz with benefits.

Drones Proving Their Worth Across Many Sectors

Drones are one of the more revolutionary gadgets to come out of the 2010s. Shepherding is just a single example of how people and organizations are using drones to create efficiencies in real-world settings. 

In Ghana, a startup called Zipline is using drones to deliver crucial vaccines and medications to remote areas. Fire departments are deploying drones to assist in firefighting efforts. Drones are also being used to fumigate fields of coca leaves in Colombia, an activity that would take humans hours and hours to complete.

Additionally, the logistics space is rife with opportunity for drones. Amazon is gearing up for large-scale doorstep deliveries, and warehouse operators see tremendous potential for improving inventory management with drones. Though some believed the technology would be a novelty in the consumer space, drones have evolved into a modern-day disruptor and reignited the imagination of many.

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