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Beyond the Bale : September 2016
SMART FARMING WITH DRONES Research into the use of drone technology to improve on-farm efficiency and management during lambing has been undertaken thanks to an AWI-supported grant. Reducing lamb losses prior to weaning is a priority for the Australian sheep industry. More than 80 per cent of lamb mortalities occur during the first 72 hours of life, reflecting the challenging 24 hour period after birth where the lamb must adapt to the outside environment and establish a strong bond with its mother. Minimising disturbance at lambing is therefore critical in order to limit interference to the ewe-lamb bond. “The use of smart technologies for routine on-farm monitoring is set to revolutionise the agricultural industry,” says 22-year-old Amy Lockwood, a PhD student at Murdoch University in Perth, who undertook a project this year supported by a Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture funded by AWI. “Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have begun to be used across many agricultural sectors and could provide a labour efficient method of monitoring for sheep producers, particularly during lambing when remote monitoring could prevent mismothering.” Amy grew up in Albany in Western Australia and completed a Bachelor of Animal Science with first class Honours at Murdoch University in 2014. Her PhD project is investigating the effects of lambing density, flock size and stocking rate on ewe-Iamb behaviour and lamb survival. This particular project investigated the potential of using drones to monitor ewes, feed and watering points during lambing. It included the potential of drones for remotely monitoring ewe-lamb behaviour and identifying the distribution of ewes within the paddock and how it might relate to lamb survival. This project utilised three drones, operated by commercial drone pilots: 1. a fixed-wing, “Gatewing X100”, produced by Aeromatic Unmanned Aerial Solutions 2. a DJI Phantom quadcopter 3. a DJI Phantom quadcopter fitted with a specialised zoom. The quadcopter flights for monitoring were manually controlled and the footage was watched in real-time using a tablet device. For the quadcopter and fixed-wing flights which generated maps of the lambing paddocks, the flight paths were automated and the images were downloaded and stitched together using computer software. “The drones were observed to have no effect on the behaviour of the ewes or lambs and therefore could be considered to cause less disturbance than monitoring using a vehicle or motorbike,” Amy said. “Using the quadcopter drones, ewes and lambs were able to be monitored remotely with relative ease, and ewes with lambing difficulties were able to be identified. “Watering points and fence lines were able to be checked, including identification of issues such as leaking water troughs. The availability of hay was also able to be checked and it is possible that drones may enable other supplementary feed sources to be checked depending on the method of feeding (ie trail feeding vs self-feeders). “Ewe-lamb behaviour was able to be observed, however real-time extended observations were limited within the battery life of the drone (approximately 20 minutes), restricting its use for our specific research given it would sometimes takes several hours for ewes to deliver their lambs.” Amy says the use of drones is currently limited to small paddocks and mobs. Being airborne, drones are able to provide a means of monitoring across a range of terrains and conditions and could therefore prove beneficial in circumstances where vehicles are unable to access the paddock, including when water-logged. However, drones are unable to operate in wet and windy conditions. “Whilst drones are currently being used by a small number of sheep producers across Australia, drones will require longer battery lives before they are able to used efficiently to monitor mobs of sheep on commercial farms,” Amy said. “With further advancements in drone technology, and in conjunction with other smart technologies, drones could aid in improving on-farm efficiency and monitoring in the future.” MORE INFORMATION A.Lockwood@murdoch.edu.au SCIENCE AND INNOVATION AWARDS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE IN AGRICULTURE Applications for the 2017 Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture close on 14 October. Each year the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources with its Award partners, including AWI, presents this competitive grants program for innovative research projects that will benefit Australia's agricultural industries. The awards are coordinated by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and are open to young people aged 18 to 35 who are working or studying in rural industries. The Awards aim to encourage science, innovation and technology in rural industries and help to advance the careers of young scientists, researchers and innovators through national recognition of their research ideas. MORE INFORMATION AND APPLICATIONS www.wool.com/scienceawards Screenshot of footage captured by a drone monitoring ewes and recently born lambs. 30 ON FARM
In the Shops - September 2016