Feed Lot

DEC 2017

Feedlots and cow/calf operations in the beef industry who feed 500 or more has annually on grains and concentrates; maintain 500 or more beef cows; backgrounder, stocker/grower, preconditioner; veterinarian, nutritionist, consultant

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8 FEED•LOT  December 2017 INDUSTRY & INNOVATION ISSUE By HEATHER SMITH THOMAS Small unmanned aircraft sys- tems (sUAS), commonly called drones, were once a novelty, but new technology has made them more practical and useful. They have many applications today in agriculture—for crop monitoring and for livestock producers. They are handy for locating missing cattle or checking a fence or water source in a big pasture. A drone can check activity in the breeding pasture or calving pasture—or check for sick animals in a feedlot. On-board cam- eras can take high quality photos and videos that can be used for many purposes including advertis- ing and marketing cattle. Brent W. Auvermann, PhD, pro- fessor and center director, Texas A&M AgriLife Research at Amaril- lo, says there are two types of drones. "The ones with 2, 4, 6 or 8 rotors can go slowly and hover like a helicopter. The other type are fixed wing, more like an airplane. They fly faster but they can't hover. If you want to cover a lot of ground in a hurry, the fixed wing drones are best," he says. "All drones can be outfitted with a variety of sensors and cameras. Many people are familiar with the old GoPro camera that skiers, snowboarders and other athletes strap to themselves, taking videos as they go along," says Auvermann. "We can also mount regular cameras or more sophisticated sen- sors on drones—such as thermal cameras. Those can detect differ- ences between temperatures of various things in the pasture or field. People can use those for tracking livestock at night or under a canopy of trees." Drones are becoming very useful in crop agriculture for checking and monitoring plants. "We can use sen- sors that measure reflectance of the ground surface or crop canopy in different parts of the spectrum of light—ultraviolet, visual, infrared, far infrared, etc. We can pick up things like water stress, nutrient de- ficiency, disease or insect pressure on plants," says Auvermann. For stockmen, a drone could be useful for detecting a calving or lambing problem, a sick animal, or something that's not quite right. Videos or photos could be helpful in many situations. "A temperature sensor might be handy, assuming you could discriminate between two animals, and how sensitive the sensor is," he says. Checking animal movement or patterns of movement can also be useful. A person might be able to tell if animals were lame, or being chased or harassed by predators, for instance. "Drones can stay under the cloud deck, close to the ground and the things you want to image. We'd like to be able to do some of this from satellites but they are too high and a cloud deck can block that view. The drone can be underneath the cloud deck and we can go very low and slow with the rotary drone, for instance," says Auvermann. Drones will also be useful for en- vironmental research on feedlots, looking for greenhouse gas "hot spots" on a feedlot surface, etc. "We've started some of that work, developing a sensor and image in- terpretation," he says. DRONES a Useful Tool for Ranchers and Feedlots Texas farmer and rancher Tim Choat uses a drone for a variety of uses on his operation. His drone features an auto hover and "return to home" feature. That feature kicks in when the battery is low. The drone warns the pilot it is running low on battery and is returning home, which is handy when checking cattle or other tasks. "I can fly it over pastures to locate cattle, check fences, take pictures of cattle to keep a count… lots of things. It saves on maintenance of vehicles, such as preventing flats, scratches from mesquite trees on vehicles, etc." Before leaving the store, Tim received a flying lesson practicing take-offs and landings. "It was easy to fly. I had a great instructor, but I also had flight lessons years ago. But the training came in very useful." Eyes in the Sky

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