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Using drones on farm to check sheep welfare

Project start date: 01 May 2018
Project end date: 14 October 2022
Project status: In progress
Livestock species: Sheep, Lamb
Relevant regions: Victoria
Site location: North west Victoria


The Enhanced Producer Demonstration Site (EPDS) concept was developed in 2014 as a partnership between Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Agriculture Victoria. The partnership brings the benefits of integrating with Agriculture Victoria’s  BestWool/BestLamb and BetterBeef network of producers and groups receive assistance from Agriculture Victoria extension staff throughout the demonstrations including monitoring, evaluation, reporting and communication.

This project comprised of two parts. Firstly, the completion of a suite of eight (Phase 1) demonstrations that commenced in 2014, and secondly, a further seven (Phase 2) demonstrations, established through an expression of interest (EOI) process that commenced in 2018 / 19. 

Demonstrating and measuring on farm use of a drone to check sheep welfare at lambing and comparing the level of disturbance from a drone to normal practice. Identifying uses for drones at other times of the year, such as checking water troughs in summer.


Are drones all they are cracked up to be? Can they save time and money monitoring sheep welfare? These are the sorts of questions the Boort BestWool/BestLamb (BWBL) group wanted to find out during the three-year ‘Using drones on-farm to monitor sheep welfare’ demonstration.  

Using technology to save time and labour is an increasing area of interest for farmers. As such, the Boort farmers looked to measure the practical uses of a drone and identify if the labour requirements to check ewe welfare at lambing using a drone were more efficient than everyday practice. The usefulness of the drone was also assessed for other tasks at other times in the year.  

More than 150 videos were recorded from three different drones across three lambing periods (2019, 2020, 2021) and two summer periods (2019,2020). It was observed that sheep stayed calm when the drone was at a distance, or if approached slowly, it could be flown at lower heights between 10-15 metres. When the drone was travelling at speed at any height, the sheep tended to move away from it. The farmers observed that this was due to the sound of the drone.   

The trial identified items to consider when looking to purchase a drone and how best to fly it around sheep, information that was previously not available. Ag tech limitations affected the uptake of drones in this trial. However, the drones were found to undertake some tasks on-farm quickly and effectively, such as water trough checks, and they could be used to check ewe and lamb welfare at lambing if approached slowly. 

Get involved

Contact the PDS facilitators: 

Erica Schelfhorst

Bindi Hunter