The shepherd’s modern companions
Herd management in vast, remote or impassable terrain has always required certain technologies to monitor and protect the animals. The cowbell. The herding dog. And now the drone.
Something is in the works in New Zealand, the realm of sheep and shepherds. The shepherd’s loyal helper for thousands of years, the sheep or herding dog, is at least in some cases being replaced by a barking drone, meaning they may suffer the same fate as the hand weaver or the telephone operator.
No perfect dog replacement
As yet, drones can’t do everything better than a dog. The battery capacity limits the operating time to currently about 30 minutes. And in inclement weathers, the border collie, which was specifically bred and highly trained for centuries, still has the edge.
But the drone is ahead by a nose (or propeller?) in other respects. It can take pictures of pregnant and lambing ewes from a high vantage point and with a zoom function, without disturbing them. It bears no resemblance to any natural predators of the herd animals and therefore does not trigger any stress reaction. And if the need arises, it is equipped with a loudspeaker and a recording of the barking of the resident dog.
Taking advantage of the relative benefits
So drones make it possible to protect herds better and more gently. Nevertheless, drones and dogs are likely to work side by side for the foreseeable future. And that’s what smart farming is all about. Using the technology where it actually improves or increases efficiency. Drone technology in particular can achieve a lot in farming—it is perfect for the challenges of large, sparsely populated areas.
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