Autonomous drone herding in the livestock industry

By: Dr. Zalmen Hankin // June 2022

The question of where is the livestock industry heading to in the future is being raised, while there are tough debates on its impacts on the environment. As was shown, livestock has numerous and diverse effects on environmental components and as so it is important to take these questions in account while planning management of the land. It means that with reducing expenses and increasing income, also improving sustainability of the grazing system (pasture condition and soil health) and animal welfare (decreasing stress) should be considered. The beef supply systems play a significant role in the global agri-food economy and the future of them depend heavily on the ability to improve their sustainability in terms of ecological impacts and efficiency with improving and optimizing the management of the land.
Respect for the environment and animal welfare, as well as the quality and health safety of beef are corner stones for guiding the modern development of this sector. Grasslands cover about 30% of the global land surface and provide critical ecosystem services, these are reported due to the contribution of the farming system to landscape shaping, natural biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of the socio-cultural heritage maintaining. Among these services, carbon sequestration is most prominent. Because of the large rangelands extent, a small change in soil carbon stocks across rangeland ecosystems would have a large effect on greenhouse gas accounts. As so, soil organic carbon has long been of interest to scientists, technical advisers and land managers and serve as an indicator of soil health. As management practices can significantly influence carbon sequestration, an optimal management of the land is important to be conducted.
a drone watching over a cattle herd

Precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in different agriculture fields, mainly in order to define the optimal management systems. This, in a way, can be applied to solve some of the main problems that are raised. These relative newly technologies, that combine GPS and GIS are commonly used these days. They are fundamental tools for mapping location position of plants and animals in the range, collecting data while enabling teams to survey large areas, creating maps of spatial variability of different components for making informed decisions quickly, safely and accurately. In addition, these technologies could also be combined with drones for improving herding, making possible and carrying out the best management of the land. Finding cows in large or small rangelands, identifying them and moving them by drones from one plot to another can be the way for significantly improving management.

detecting cattle in pasture with drones

Some technologies are ready to be applied in order to improve the beef sector at all levels of the production chain and some still needed to be developed. BeeFree is building unique methodologies for drone-based herding, a sustainable agricultural practice for moving large herds over complex pastures without human intervention and is designed for the mitigation of environmental impacts

References BeeFree Agro web site. Derner, J.D. and Schuman, G.E. (2007). Carbon sequestration and rangelands: A synthesis of land management and precipitation effects. Journal of soil and water conservation. 62, 77-85. Fynn, A.J., Alvarez, P., Brown, J.R., George, M.R., Kustin, C., Laca, E.A., Oldfield, J.T., Schohr, T., Neely, C.L. and Wong, C.P. (2009). Soil carbon sequestration in United States rangelands. Issues paper for protocol development. New York, NY, USA, Environmental Defense Fund. Mcsherry, M.E. and Ritchie, M.E. (2013). Effects of grazing on grassland soil carbon: a global review. Global Change Biology, doi: 10.1111/gcb.12144. Pulina, G., Acciaro, M., Atzori, A.S., Battacone, G., Crovetto, G.M., Mele, M., Pirlo, G. and Rassu, S.P.G. (2021). Animal board invited review – Beef for future: technologies for a sustainable and profitable beef industry. Animal: The international journal of animal biosciences.