Goat producers trial drone mustering

Queensland livestock producer, Luke Chaplain is the founder of SkyKelpie. Credit: SkyKelpie.

Key points:

Trials are underway to explore the use of drones to locate and muster goats efficiently and cost-effectively on large-scale operations.

  • SkyKelpie is undertaking R&D with the aim of upscaling drone technology to make a commercial product for finding and moving livestock.
  • Trials have been undertaken at a range of livestock operations, including with Queensland goat producers, Natalie Curley and Aimie Licht.
  • SkyKelpie founder, Luke Chaplain, says current drone regulations regarding visual line-of-sight usage is creating a barrier to uptake of the technology.

Trials are underway to explore the use of drones to locate and muster goats efficiently and cost-effectively on large-scale operations, and as a broader on-farm management tool for the livestock industry.

Queensland livestock producer, Luke Chaplain of Malakoff Station, Cloncurry, is the founder of SkyKelpie, a research and development company that’s undertaking trials with the aim of upscaling the technology to make a commercial product for finding and moving livestock.

Luke said while some livestock producers are already mustering livestock using drones – also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – there is potential to explore commercial models that emulate traditional helicopter mustering in a more cost-effective and efficient way.

Through the trials, Luke is also looking to address future regulation changes to make UAVs more user-friendly for large-scale livestock operations.

“The use of drones in Australia is regulated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). It’s very complex to be able to fly a drone out of the visual line-of-sight, which is a barrier to the technology’s adoption on large-scale properties,” Luke said.

Luke is undertaking the trials with the support of MLA’s Supply Chain Technology Innovation Program and Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Luke is also a 2022 Nuffield Scholar and will be travelling to countries including the United States in 2023 to visit UAV manufacturers to look at emerging technologies and explore the various regulations in those jurisdictions.

Imagery from the drone taken during the drone mustering trials on Avington Station, near Blackall. Credit: SkyKelpie.

Goat mustering trials

Among the trials Luke has undertaken with the drone, is mustering goats with Queensland goat producers, Natalie Curley and Aimie Licht, on Avington Station, near Blackall in the State’s central west.

“We used a DJI M30T drone and applied the simple mustering principles of pressure and release in different ways to move the herd and it worked really well,” Luke said.

“We think there’s going to be a range of other benefits associated with using the drone, particularly in terms of on-farm safety.

“Where Natalie and Aimie are located, a lot of gyrocopters are used by livestock producers, which can be even more dangerous than helicopters.

“During one of the trials, the lead goats ran out into timber, and it would have been dangerous with a motorbike trying to flush them out, but we managed to steer them out with the drone.”

Natalie and Aimie said they were impressed with the drone’s ability to muster the goats efficiently.

“The drone really helped flush out the goats from the brush and trees,” Aimie said.

“It allowed us to control the mob better, with less people and less stress.”

“None of the goats got into a gallop, and when we were moving them off the water, the drone gently moved them, so the nannies picked up their kids and walked off, preventing mismothering,” Natalie said.

“We use Kalahari Red genetics in our herd to improve the earlier turn off, when needed, while driving the value of our product on a commercial scale and improving our land management practices with numbers.”

During one of the trials, a speaker was attached to the drone to test its effectiveness.

“While the noise of the rotor blades and the presence of the drone is usually more than enough to move livestock, when you get into different situations, it’s an extra tool that could be used if needed,” Luke said.

“It’s a third-party speaker that’s compatible with the DJI, and you can upload any sounds you want. I have uploaded helicopter noise, my voice, and a dog barking.”

MLA investment

MLA Supply Chain Technology Innovation Program Manager, Darryl Heidke, said the R&D trials MLA is carrying out with SkyKelpie are now highlighting the specific use cases and value propositions of drones for red meat producers and how this technology may change the way livestock is mustered in the future.

“The added advantage of this aerial platform is that the drone could be used as a mobile data platform for gathering important data on water, livestock and pasture management while mustering to improve decisions on-farm,” Darryl said.

“The project will also provide practical insights for commercial application of technology on-farm and inform the risk and safety requirements, benefits of the solution and pathways to address Regulations – Landholder Rule (EVLOS, BVLOS).”

Watch videos of the drone mustering goats at Avington and Natalie and Aimie discussing the drone’s benefits.

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