Drones on the Range

It used to be that when the time came to move a herd of cattle, ranchers would grab their spurs and saddle up.  The cowboys of the Old West moved their cattle on horseback. But times are changing and so too are the tools and methods of ranching.  In the future, cowboys may have to bring their pilot’s license or even their drone to work.

The BBC put out this video some time ago of an Australian rancher moving livestock with his Robinson R22 helicopter.  These talented pilots are called “helicowboys.”

Flying can be a quicker and more cost effective method of rounding up cows.  A number of different companies have emerged throughout the U.S. that specialize in helicopter cattle herding.  Texas-based Silver Star Helicopters, LLC is just one example of many.

Helicopters offer superb views of the country.  Pilots can easily check on stray steer, downed fences, vegetation and water levels.  What normally would take hours of riding over hundreds of acres is accomplished in a few minutes.  Monitoring the wildlife becomes simpler too.  Helicopters are being used to observe deer and to control hog and predator populations.

Of course, the rise of drones is affecting all aspects of the aviation industry and aerial cattle herding is no exception. It is not hard to imagine how dangerous a helicowboy’s work is. The BBC video mentions that ten such pilots crash every year.  Drones, which have been used to herd before, might soon take over the whole operation.

Farmers could also benefit from the rise in drones.  A clear role for drones would be to replace crop duster pilots, who have very dangerous jobs.  Modern Farmer has a piece where they discuss the increasing role for drones in agriculture.  They mention that France, Japan, Brazil, and Argentina have begun to use drones in their farms.

Here is a video of Yamaha’s RMAX drone spraying the fields.

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