Drones pass muster but dogs still essential for stock work – Otago Daily Times

Musterer Tony Buchanan, who recently competed in a drone component at the Lowburn Collie Club dog...

Musterer Tony Buchanan, who recently competed in a drone component at the Lowburn Collie Club dog trials with a Phantom 4 Pro, has turned to the technology for his everyday work in the hills. Photo: Alexia Johnston

Drones are proving to be the way forward for musterers as they attempt to keep up with technology — and their stock.

Musterer Tony Buchanan has experienced the benefits of drones first-hand, after turning to a Phantom 4 Pro — an unmanned aircraft — for his work high in the Central Otago hills.

He said the device had come in handy over the past two years while mustering sheep and cattle.

“But you still can’t do it without your dogs,” he said.

The noise of the drone’s props pushes the stock along country, and the dogs provide extra noise with their bark.

Mr Buchanan, who is based at Bannockburn, musters two to three days a week.

The drone is often used during those excursions, for about 25 minutes at a time.

“Then it just comes back home,” he said.

The battery is replaced and it is ready to keep working.

“They are just a great machine. You can save a lot of time with it,” he said.

Mr Buchanan was initially unsure if the device would be of use.

“I was sceptical for a start, but they are no longer a toy. They are a machine.”

The drone provides Mr Buchanan with video footage of the stock while they are being mustered.

However, its main benefit was the time it had saved.

“Some days I can save two to three hours by the time you walk out and where you need to go. But you still can’t beat your dogs,” he said.

Drones are used across a range of jobs within the rural sector, including farm surveying and crop monitoring.

Landpro, which provides land surveying services, is among the companies which have turned to drones over recent years.

However, director Mike Borthwick said although the devices had their place within the company, they were not used as much now as previously.

The company started using drones in 2013, when it  bought a fixed-wing model.

However, it had since realised using a manned aircraft was often more viable for much of the work it did.

Drones were a practical device for covering a small area, but not so much for large-scale farms.

“It depends what you are doing with them.”

Landpro flew over about 40 properties every week for plant health and weed monitoring, a process that could take much longer with a drone than a manned aircraft, he said.

“We still certainly use drones in that space, but on a much smaller scale.”

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