As It Happens

New Zealand farmer uses a barking drone to herd his sheep

These days, Corey Lambeth can spend a lot less time roaming around his New Zealand paddocks, and a lot more time working from his living room.

Corey Lambeth uses a drone to keep an eye on his livestock — but he still keeps his pooches busy, too

A DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone is demonstrated at theduring CES 2019 in Las Vegas. ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Transcript

These days, Corey Lambeth spends a lot less time roaming all over his New Zealand farmland, and a lot more time with his family.

That's because the sheep and beef farmer, from near Rotherham on the South Island, uses a camera drone to keep an eye on his land, watch over his livestock, and even herd his animals. 

And it helps that his drone — a DJI Mavic Enterprise — can bark. 

Lambeth spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about this latest innovation in farming technology. Here is part of their conversation. 

Your drone is a tool you can use for surveying your land and to see what's going on. But how much did it change when you could actually add the bark to your drone?

It goes to a whole new level.

How did you get the bark? 

The recordings are from my dogs. So I had to sit them down and tell them to speak up at once, and then I recorded it on my phone and transferred it over to play on the drone, which is quite cool.

Now, did your dogs know that you were you were recording them and putting them out of work?

No, not at the time. But now when I fly the drone around, they're looking out the truck and it's like, "Oh, I can hear a dog. Where's that dog?"

So they can hear the dogs — themselves — barking. And so they've clued into the fact that they've become redundant, that you've replaced them with a piece of technology.

They're actually learning how to work with the drone, as well. 

What do you mean?

Pretty much they'll figure out, "Oh, these barking noises over there, I don't need to go over there. Now I can just sit over in this spot, chase these cows or sheep" — whatever we're moving at the time.

The view from Corey Lambeth's farm drone (Submitted by Corey Lambeth)

So they figured out that this is ... a piece of technology that they can make use of?

Yeah, they have. They've figured out it makes their job a lot easier as well.

Good dogs. Those are great dogs.

It's a fantastic team we've got.

I've seen the contests of sheep dogs rounding up sheep, and it's just astonishing to watch. I mean, you see it all the time, but when you watch how clever they are, how instinctive they are — I mean, they can almost figure out what the sheep is going to do next and maneuver. Isn't that lost? I mean, the drone can't do that, right?

Well, it still comes down to the pilots. Since I've been sitting in the hills, just watching how the stock move and react to dogs, I've incorporated that into using the drone.

I can't get it 100 per cent right like the dogs get it. But, yeah, that makes me think on my toes quite a bit more.

But you can't possibly replace those dogs and how clever they are.

No, no. Not at all. 

How has it changed your work? I mean, do you have to actually go out? Can you just sit in your living room and round up your cattle?

The drones cannot open gates yet, so I still have to go out there. But it's made my work a lot easier.

If I'm working with dogs on one side of the hill, I can get the drones flying on the other side ... which has increased my time to relax at home with my family.

Corey Lambeth says using a drone to herd sheep and cows gives his farm dogs a break. (Submitted by Corey Lambeth)

What about on rainy days and cloudy, overcast days? Does the drone work as effectively?

On real wet and windy days, the old drone has to sit at home. 

So have the dogs figured out it's only on the worst days they have to go out there?

Yeah, which I think they kind of resent me for making them work on a cold day.

They're saying, "Where's that drone?"

Yeah, they're saying, "Why do I have to go out there today?"

But now, do you think this is going to take on in other places? Do you think that you'll see other farmers go the drone direction?

Yes, I reckon it's got to be a valuable tool for the tool belt.

It makes things a lot more efficient when you need to actually just go and check on your stocks' well-being during, like, lambing or calving.

Lambeth can watch his flock from a distance with his drone. (Submitted by Corey Lambeth)

And when they are lambing or something like that, are they worried about the drone, given that it casts a shadow, it makes a noise? Does that disturb them at all?

The one good thing about the Mavic Enterprise: it's actually pretty quiet and you can actually fly above them and then you use the zoom in the camera.

So you're actually not disturbing them at all. They just go about their day, which is quite ideal compared to driving through the paddock with all my dogs on the back of the truck.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Ashley Mak. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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