Mustering sheep safely with drones

Victorian farmers Tom and Bill Alston use drones to take some of the stress and injury risk out of mustering sheep and cattle on their Beeac property in the state’s south-west. The use of drones on-farm to muster stock, instead of using horses or motorbikes, has reduced the time spent mustering sheep from one day to only a few hours.

Consistent with recent research that has proven drones as a low-stress form of mustering stock, Tom Alston said it is obvious that sheep are less stressed when mustered with drones.

“It’s obvious they are, it’s a brilliant way to do it. “You can let the sheep go at their own pace, and go where they want to, especially on our farm, with its really rocky undulating country,” he said.

“If you are pushing them (with dogs and motorbikes) you are pushing them the way you want to push them.”

He said the drone allowed the operator to check a lot of country very quickly and safely – at 70 kilometres per hour – and the sheep arrived at the yards more relaxed.

“They’re not buggered. It’s a heaps better way to do it.”

The third generation farmers run a cattle and Merino wool operation on 6500 acres near Beeac and they feature in the latest WorkSafe on-farm safety campaign targeting the ‘bulletproof’ attitudes among farmers.

Twenty-four people have died in Victorian farm workplaces over the past three years. Accidents happen on Victorian farms every day. On average, one in four of those injured on farms take longer than six months to return to work.

In 2008 Tom suffered a serious injury using a motorbike on farm while wearing a helmet but without wearing the proper protective gear. Tom lost a lot of skin and spent three months going in and out of hospital to re-apply bandages.

During this time Tom’s family felt the impact of the incident, with father Jim needing to step up and pick up the work that Tom wasn’t able to complete. Tom and Bill are now big proponents of using technology to make their farm safer and more efficient. Tom Alston said farm safety is “number one” since the accident.

The brothers were early adopters in the use of drones for sheep mustering, meaning that they no longer have to use horses or motorbikes for the task. Not only do the drones mean that Tom and Bill are safer, but the half to full day that would have been spent mustering on a motorbike or horse can now be completed in a matter of hours.

“It’s a much more efficient way of doing it and a lot safer. If you crash your drone well you just get another drone, whereas if I fall off a horse then who knows what will happen,” he said.

“I think there is a bad culture in farming that my father did it that way, my father’s father did it that way, so just the way it should be done. I think that needs to change a fair bit because a lot farming practices can be done a lot safer and in a lot better way.”

Source: Sheep Central

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