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Drones flying agriculture producers into the future

The use of drones as a tool for ranchers and farmers alike is a relatively new one. However, as technology continues to throttle mankind into the future, so, too, must those ranchers and farmers adapt. 

Kaleb and Kari Lewis, area ranchers who recently bought their own property just northeast of Cut Bank, have invoked the use of drones in their day-to-day work around their ranch. 

“We have to become more efficient and utilize what resources there are out there to our advantage,” Caleb Lewis said. “This is still a relatively new technology but it is advancing quickly and getting better every year.” 

A drone can replace mundane and timely tasks that ranchers of the past would have had to have completed manually, such as general supervision of the property, checking animal’s health statuses, rounding up stray cows or checking water levels or fences. Flying a drone in the same pattern that one would take a four-wheeler saves time and energy while yielding the same results. 

In fact, some aspects of a drone actually allow for more accurate results than the human eye can perceive. Thermal imaging videos can be taken from a specially-equipped lens of a drone, allowing the rancher to see if an animal has a higher body temperature than average. Having the capability to see a fever in a cow before any actual symptoms become present means a faster turnover in the recovery process and ultimately a healthier cow. 

“There are so many ways that using a drone on the ranch allows one to become more efficient,” Lewis said. “Not only does this help us make the most of what we have, but it’s really a lot of fun as well.” 

Depending on the make and model of the drone, the equipment has the capability of flying within a five-mile radius from the individual holding the controls. The drone is also able to fly at a speed of roughly 45 miles per hour and upwards of 1,600 feet, meaning an aerial view of anything that a rancher could hope for. 

Some ranchers, including the Lewises, have made the most of their drones by syncing them with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in their cows’ ears. This means that if a cow or two goes missing, they are able to fly their drone through a field or near a neighboring rancher’s herd and the drone will instantly pick out the cows with the proper RFID tags. 

“There are multiple ways to use these drones to pay for themselves and to make the job easier for you in the process,” Lewis said. “One could even chase predators like bears or coyotes off of their property with these devices just by pestering them from a safe distance.” 

The uses of drones are not limited to animals though, and farmers have begun to integrate them into their daily routines as well. A drone can be used as a tool to more accurately map out a field before planting, monitor crop growth, check for weeds, check soil health and moisture content and to spot-treat any problem areas in the fields. 

“I never would have imagined using a drone to move animals or on the ranch,” Lewis said. “We are still learning more about these devices every day and as we talk to other ranchers and farmers who use these as a tool, we build upon each other’s knowledge and learn better ways to use them.” 

Kaleb encourages anyone that wants to know more about getting started in drones and tips on how they can be applied to an agricultural or farm setting to contact him for advice. He can be reached at (308) 764-7131. 

“You might as well enjoy the luxuries of technology if you can,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of ways to make it work for you instead.”

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