Shepherd in the Sky

Aug 3, 2021

Researchers in the Land Down Under have been out in the pasture tending their sheep.

And sheepdogs have herd the research may eventually put them out of a job.

The rundown: Studies led by researchers out of the University of New South Wales and Charles Sturt University center around the benefits of using drones to herd sheep.

The concept is not new, but the focus of the research is unique—because it’s all about the sheep.

Time to chillax: Using monitors to measure the animals’ heart rate during a paddock relocation, the researchers noted heart rates were lower when using the sound-emitting drones and higher when using dogs.

Why’s this important? Higher heart rate = higher stress levels = bad for sheep = bad for production.

But wait, there’s more: Along with getting the sheep to take a chill pill, the research has also looked at the effectiveness of drones in maneuvering the sheep, and the results are promising.

Sheep in the trials have adapted quickly to being mustered by the drones. And while dogs must get in front of the animals in order to stop the herd, the drones have been able to halt the flocks by simply hovering over them.

Where this goes: There is a lot of research yet to be done, and some traditional ranchers may be a little sheepish about adopting the technology. But with a good sheepdog often costing a rancher $30K+, simple economics may eventually have ranchers flocking to embrace the technology.