South Dakota Grassland Coalition

by Garnet Perman

Sep 2023

New technology is ever evolving

How to incorporate new technology into a ranching operation takes a bit of time and ingenuity. Several producers shared their perspective for this article.

The drawbacks to drone usage are significant. They include cost per usage, user friendliness, distance covered and battery issues. A basic drone with a camera costs $400-$1500 depending on brand and the features available. Dan Rassussen’s Holystone was $300 3-4 years ago. They are still in that range. He’d spend more the next time and get one with a stability feature. He uses his mainly for videos to promote the Grassland Coalition. Jody Brown has a DJI Mavic Pro. It came with four batteries and a sturdy case. It retails for about $1200. He noted that Joe Dickie, the videographer behind the USDA NRCS Amazing Grasslands videos uses the mini version of the same model.

The Possibilities of using a drone

Nick Jorgensen, of Jorgensen Land and Cattle near Ideal, thinks using a drone has possibilities, but theirs has seen limited use for anything other than promotional videos and social media. Their operation employs more people than most ranches which would require more training in using the drone. “You need to be comfortable with technology,” Jorgensen said. Most drones work with an app on a cell phone. He grew up playing video games which carried over well to operating a drone.

Jorgensen noted that a drone’s whirring and whizzing will initially scare cattle, so they would have to get used to it in order to use it to move cows, but that’s certainly a possibility. Drones are useful for surveying country that is difficult to access any other way. Looking for cattle in rough terrain is one example. Brown counted bales one winter when the snow was too deep to drive out. He’s also used one just to look where the cows are and what the grass looks like, but not on a regular basis. 

Under favorable conditions a battery lasts about half an hour and has a range of two miles. Wind shortens battery life and therefore range which limits use on the prairie. Jorgensen noted that they move at about 55 mph and can cover country quickly. They can take a picture of a water tank quicker than it takes to drive out to look at it. Brown has programmed his to check multiple water tanks on one flight.

Some drones have a “Find Your Drone” feature which is nice in case they come farther away than anticipated. Rasmussen said finding a downed drone is a bit like hunting pheasants—“Don’t take your eye off it, or you’ll lose it.”

These three producers agreed that drones can be used as a tool for finding cattle in rough terrain, possibly moving them, and photographing grazing patterns among others. They also agree that the technology isn’t quite where it could be to make a drone a really effective ranch tool.

Drones are excellent for making a video to demonstrate certain tasks or social media use. It could be a way to enable youngsters to be engaged in the operation.

People should be aware that any commercial use of drone footage requires Remote Pilot Certification from the FAA and costs about $175. They are supposed to be registered for free for personal use. The FAA Drone Zone is where to go for more information.

Source: SDGC Newsletter

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