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Canine vs drone: May a ‘sky shepherd’ be better at mustering than a sheepdog?

Canine vs drone: May a ‘sky shepherd’ be better at mustering than a sheepdog?

Working dogs are synonymous with lifestyles on the land, but technology from the sky may rapidly be transferring in on their territory. 

Key features:

  • Researchers are monitoring the stress levels of sheep being mustered by a working dog compared with a drone
  • Drone builders want to plan manoeuvres that will benefit farmers muster sheep without the use of dogs
  • Researchers have been taken aback by how snappily the sheep have adapted to drone mustering

Researchers from Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Wagga Wagga and the University of Unusual South Wales (UNSW) in Canberra are checking out specialised drones to watch within the event that they can replicate the work of farm dogs in mustering sheep.

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A small flock of Merino sheep were fitted with heart-rate displays to gauge their stress levels whereas being rounded up by a working dog compared with being herded by a drone.

UNSW Canberra visiting military fellow Kate Yaxley said the research team wanted to understand how a flock of sheep moved when being herded by a working dog compared with a cause-constructed drone, called a Sky Shepherd.

Sheep front legs held up by a person in blue, sheep wearing heart rate monitor around neck and waist

Heart-rate displays are fitted to the sheep to compare their stress levels when mustered by a dog and by a drone.(

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


“There may be surely a rich physique of behaviours that exists contained within the flock and we can note parts of leadership and followership … so we’re looking out at understanding where these features of influence are to benefit us understand easy pointers on how to train a drone machine within the long sprint.”

Red and black drone sits on green grass

This specially constructed drone was adapted for mustering sheep for the duration of the trial.(

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


Drone versus dog

CSU’s Professor Bruce Allworth was also fascinated by the research and the trial was held on his property near Holbrook in southern NSW.

Brown dog lays down next to a flock of sheep in a paddock with green grass

Four-year-aged Kelpie Sarge mustering sheep on a farm near Holbrook, NSW.(

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


“We haven’t tried ewes and lambs but, this is really correct the first time the drone has been out on a fair farm, so or now not it’s correct a very basic trial at this level.”

Drone developer Casper Kenworthy, from UNSW Canberra, was taken aback by how snappily the sheep adapted to drone mustering.

“The following step would be to form some bespoke manoeuvres for a drone, because currently we correct have adopted some sheep dog herding manoeuvres from trials,” Mr Kenworthy said.

Man wearing cap and kneeling, inspecting a red and black drone

Drone developer Casper Kenworthy getting ready to muster sheep for the trial.(

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


For the trial, the sheep were manoeuvred purely by drone without any barking noises.

“Initially we were looking out at adding some sounds to it, adore some dog barks and some motorbikes, but we have came upon correct the noise of the drone and the presence of it being there has been ample to herd the sheep,” Mr Kenworthy said.

Flock of sheep in a paddock, red and black drone hovering above them

Researchers are making an attempt to search out out if drones can be of greater use to farmers. (

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


Mr Kenworthy said the drone had proved more efficient at stopping the sheep by simply hovering instantly over them, whereas a dog would have to transfer to the front of the flock to halt them.

Are drones a cheaper alternative?

With Australian farmers paying as much as $35,000 for a correct working dog, mustering sheep with drones may indicate to be a cheaper alternative, provided the technology works without causing extra stress to the sheep.

Professor Allworth said measuring the heart rate of the sheep would benefit researchers resolve the least irritating means wherein to herd them.

Man in striped jumper wearing a wide brim hat, smiling and leaning on an iron gate

Professor Bruce Allworth, from the Graham Centre at Wagga Wagga, held the trial on his property at Holbrook, NSW.  (

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


“I suspect that a effectively-managed circulate of sheep will have similar welfare outcomes from each a drone and a dog, but a poorly managed dog may upset sheep a bit and equally if the drone doesn’t maintain an eye on the sheep, they may regain upset as effectively,” he said.

Traditional stockmen adore Simon Hartwich may take a bit more convincing to take up the technology.

“I mediate drones are another instrument that farmers can probably use, but I produce now not know whether or now not they can ever absolutely replace dogs,” Mr Hartwich said.

Man wearing wide brim hat, kneeling, fits a black plastic monitor around the neck of a brown dog.

Holbrook stockman Simon Hartwich and his four-year-aged Kelpie, Sarge, for the duration of the trial.(

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


Mr Hartwich, from Holbrook, and his four-year-aged Kelpie, Sarge, were part of the trial. And the duo proved more efficient than the drone at mustering the sheep on the day.

Brown dog standing on green grass

Sarge in charge, but for how long?(

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


Put now not let the dogs out, correct but

Researchers are unruffled analysing the heart-rate data of the flock from the trial and are but to search out out if drones or working dogs cause sheep essentially the most stress.

In the meantime, Ms Yaxley will proceed to research and refine the way drones can be damaged-down on farms.

“A drone correct purchased of the shelf is now not necessarily very easy to pilot, so or now not it’s important to understand what would be required to make use of it,” she said.

Woman in navy jumper and a mask,  with yellow plastic containers on a bench

University of NSW visiting military fellow Kate Yaxley analyses data in a woolshed as part of the research.(

ABC Riverina: Cara Jeffery


“That’s why or now not it is so important that we understand what is currently occurring within the machine, so that we can plan for the long sprint.”

Professor Allworth, who’s also a farmer, agreed drones may become a handy instrument on farms.

“We’re making an attempt to regain hundreds data so we can teach the drone via artificial intelligence to be able to muster sheep, so a farmer … would be able to say,  “Paddle and muster a certain paddock,’ and the drone would crawl out and quandary itself smartly and carry the sheep in,” he said.

Woman and man in a paddock holding a drone between them, brown dog sitting on the ground between them.

Ms Yaxley and Professor Allworth are trialling how efficient drones are at mustering sheep.(

Supplied: The Graham Centre/Charles Sturt University


However he is a realist by way of challenges within the paddock and says some situations would now not be suitable for drones.

“The challenge with drones are things adore trees,” he said.

“However correct for general mustering, where any person goes out on their aspect-by-aspect car or on the bike, taking a drone with them may increase their efficiency.”

Canine vs drone: May a ‘sky shepherd’ be better at mustering than a sheepdog?