Imagine this: I hear I have a heifer out in the pasture in heat, so I send out the farm's drone to record a thermal picture of the group and tell me which one it is. It may sound like science fiction, but I already have activity monitors on the legs of my cattle and a "Fitbit" for my arm to track my activity levels, so maybe using drones to identify cows in heat isn't as far-fetched as it first seems.
There has been a lot of talk about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV, or drones) in the agricultural press recently. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has started to move toward defining the rules for proper, safe public and commercial use of UAV in the U.S. For more details, see this February 15, 2015 press release.
So are we ready to use UAV/drones to check cattle or heifers in the pasture and pick out the one in heat or sick, or how about to count cattle or find and round up one that is lost? We are getting closer to that option but we are not completely there yet. For some examples of what is possible or may be available in the future, Precision Hawk has had some great press onthermal cameras and cattle.
Right now farmers flying UAV still fall under the recreational, rather than commercial, rules. Generally, you need to operate under 400 feet, stay away from airports and piloted aircraft, and always have your UAV in sight. With that said, there is lots of agricultural potential in the UAV market.
The best place to start in answering questions is to check with the FAA web site. They have very good FAQ and factsheets. They also will be the agency through which all rules and permits will be processed.
There are many online discussions and other sites that provide great information about UAV. I encourage you to get into the discussion as the rules are always changing. At the same time most of the bad UAV news stories come from someone not following the rules. Of course, there are many opportunities beyond using UAV to monitor livestock. Chad Colby has been covering this subject in the agronomic field for many years.
The above is a picture from my drone. I can see my cattle, but right now I still need to go to the pasture to see who is in heat!
Stay tuned as the future is coming.