Today, more and more industries are relying on automation to take care of manual labor that was once performed by humans. But, can you imagine robotics taking over jobs traditionally done by dogs as well? In New Zealand farmers are using drones to look after their livestock, a job which has been previously handled by intelligent dogs. Experts from DJI Ferntech, a Christchurch, NZ drone company mentioned that adoption of drones for agricultural use has seen the National Agricultural Fieldays as an important event in the company’s calendar. According to the company, more farmers have embraced the technology to handle shepherd duties, which are sometimes dangerous, dirty, or just plain dull.
While drones have not entirely replaced dogs, they have been outfitted with a key trait dogs use when herding livestock, barking. The latest drone model from DJI Ferntech has a feature that can capture sounds and amplify them over a speaker while it flies. And so far, the drone shepherd has proven to be an effective friend in controlling the movement of sheep in a variety of terrains.
Corey Lambeth, a Rotherham based shepherd, said drones have simplified his duties such as checking feed level, water, and moving stock. To Mr. Lambeth, these drones have proven to be even more useful during winter since most shepherds don’t enjoy going to the field. With the drone, they can monitor the stock while sitting at home. Likewise, the drones are useful during lambing. With camera zooming, the drone can fly across the paddock without disturbing the ewes.
James Parsons, a Northland sheep farmer, said he relies on drones to help him during lambing due to the hilly terrain in New Zealand. Sometimes, pregnant sheep can have a hard time getting up when they lie down. If there is no one close to monitor and offer support, the animal can die. To most farmers, drones save time and money. For example, instead of using two teams of dogs, plus two people, and several hours of work, they can now accomplish it in 45 minutes using a drone. Using a drone to pinpoint exactly where their aid is needed drastically cuts down time, energy, and price.
Even with the new development, dogs are unlikely to be fully replaced yet. Farmers insist that there is still a role for dogs, and they have no plans of replacing their dogs. Some farmers like Parsons believe the two could work together. He uses the drones to survey where he needs to move the dogs. While he appreciates that drones can cover difficult terrains in a short time, they might not replace intelligent dogs. Moreover, drones have a downside too. Like any electronic, you still need to charge them to continue working. Dogs are still preferred because they have a longer lifespan.