The U.S. is home to over 700,000 cattle farms and ranches, according to the 2017 Cattlemen’s Stewardship Review. A traditional industry fueled by family-owned farms (90%), best practices are typically transferred generationally and by word-of-mouth with fellow ranchers. With the continued spread of drone technology, more and more ranchers across the U.S. are adopting new techniques to improve land management, rangeland monitoring, and livestock operations.
Challenges in Ranching
27% of U.S. land, or 614 million acres, is dedicated to areas for livestock grazing. While the average ranch size is 442 acres, that’s still a significant amount of land that needs to be inspected and maintained each day. In regards to land management, ranchers have to plan grazing, crop rotations, and infrastructure development frequently. These plans are in addition to raising and monitoring their livestock, performing counts, calving, and herding. With so many things to do and resources needed, it can be difficult to prioritize or reach each task.
Drone technology simplifies these processes by providing an efficient, quick way to map and gather insights from your selected area. With a complete, data-rich map of your ranch, it’s easier than ever to evaluate options and track changes over time. Plus, you’ll be saving money on your rangeland monitoring program by removing the need for new ranch hands (typically costing between $1,000-$1,500 per hour) or expensive helicopter imagery.
Drone Data at Work
Kevin Kester, President of the National Cattleman’s Beef Association (NCBA), uses his drone for a myriad of purposes - and is always looking for more ways to do so. A drone’s ease-of-use allows the NCBA to collect more data with less labor. The geo-referenced maps help determine heavily grazed areas, water and feeder levels, and overrun plants. Some of the NCBA’s top uses even utilize infrared technology like DroneDeploy’s Thermal Live Map to identify lost cattle in remote or hard-to-reach areas, illegal trespassers or hunters, and electric fence lines.
Fencing is an area of ranching that frequently requires a lot of attention and upkeep. Previous to drone technology, workers would survey the perimeter of the ranch to ensure the fence was still intact. A broken fence causes issues like allowing animals to escape, providing easy access inside to hunters, or mixing livestock with neighbors. By using software features like Live Map, ranchers can pinpoint the affected areas before physically arriving with their tools. Not only does this cut down on time, but it’s also a more reliable method than out-of-date or cloudy satellite imagery.
Common in the farming and agriculture sector is using drone software for its multispectral imagery. Multispectral allows you to monitor plant health on your property and determine accurate water and fertilizer plans suitable for your livestock’s needs. We’ve also seen drones used to perform cattle counts and even herd animals.
Drone technology has a host of applications in the ranching space. Survey livestock, plan your farming operations, and identify problem areas in conjunction with your rangeland monitoring program. Drone software helps optimize these unavoidable tasks, with the additional environmental benefit of eliminating the burning of fossil fuels. Plus, the odds are that your drone is small enough to fit in a saddlebag.