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Will you use drones to check your herd?

When Jamey Jacob became an aerospace engineer in 1991, he never dreamed that he’d use drones to help cattle growers. Today he heads up one of the nation’s premier university research programs specializing in helping producers count cows and check the location and health of each animal.

“We’re taking infrared technology used by firefighters to track livestock in the field using unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Jacob, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

Jacob’s research teams use drones, or UAVs, to fly over herds and collect data by communicating with the bolus, or identification tag, attached to each animal. “Infrared cameras can track the temperature of individual cows and measure their health over time,” Jacob said.

While Oklahoma State’s aerospace department continues to work with NASA on projects, it’s also teaming up with Texas A&M University to explore using UAVs in agriculture.

“We got interested when ranchers contacted us about using UAVs,” Jacob said. Ranchers on big spreads expressed interest in checking cattle without driving to the back 40. “If everything’s fine, you don’t have to drive out. If an animal’s ill or stuck in a watering hole, it’s time to drive out there.”

The Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t yet approved regulations allowing farmers and ranchers to make business decisions with the help of UAVs. But Jacob predicts that even smaller cattle growers will use the technology within a couple of years. Eventually, UAVs will send alerts about your livestock to your smartphone.

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