Using a drone on-farm—a grazier’s experience

Drone Fundamentals: A Pilot’s A-Z workshop in Morven
David Bone and fellow workshop participant operating one of Fiona Lake’s many drones

A GrazingFutures Case Study — compiled by ConnectAg

Agriculture has been identified as one of the most promising spaces where drones offer great potential. The general perception is that drones can enable significant improvements in grazing enterprise efficiencies through time saving and eliminating some personal safety risks.

However, the adoption of drone technology has been challenging due to the cost and a limited knowledge of practical application and capabilities.


David Bone manages a 125,000-acre beef cattle property near Mungallala in western Queensland. He has used a drone to assist with stock mustering and monitoring for over four years.

In November 2020 David attended the Drone Fundamentals: A Pilot’s A-Z workshop in Morven. This workshop was run by the award-winning professional photographer and drone educator, Fiona Lake. The event was led by ConnectAg, in partnership with the Queensland Government’s GrazingFutures project, and significantly funded by the Queensland Health Tackling Regional Adversity through Integrated Care (TRAIC) project.

The workshop was designed for both those who already owned drones, and those considering purchasing and using drones on-farm. Participants were taught how a drone can be used effectively, safely, and legally in a grazing business. Those who already had a drone were provided a greater understanding of how to get more out it.

Key messages

David’s biggest realisation from participating in the workshop was a greater understanding of the legal requirements when operating a drone.

  • Many drone owners’ initial purchases are for novelty as opposed to a fit for purpose tool.
  • Consequently, users are often unaware of the stringent legal requirements for safe drone operation.
  • Drone standard operating conditions are enforced by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
  • Drone must always fly in visual line-of-sight of the operator.

The value of the workshop

The workshop was particularly valuable to David as it backed up what he was already doing with his own device. He was also able to uncover potential problems with both current, and possible future uses of his drone on-farm.

David began using his drone as a visual aid to reduce hazards when looking for and moving animals across blade ploughed paddocks. With practice, David has been able to muster some paddocks, and walk large mobs, by himself using his drone. In the past, these tasks would have required the use of a helicopter or other people. This has dramatically impacted his business’ bottom line.

At the workshop, David also learnt of other ways the drone can be used for on-farm efficiencies, including monitoring pipelines for leaks.

“Fiona had relevant information, particularly the video of a producer using different drones fit for purpose on farm, that was really interesting for me”.

Another key component of the workshop was the myth busting session. Fiona addressed common myths and misconceptions relating to the practical application of drones and linking these uses with legal requirements.

One such myth is using drones for monitoring water points. This is a definite no-no as the drone must be kept within the operator’s visual line-of-sight. Battery life would also be a problem in this situation.

Fiona was very upfront with her points to consider when buying a drone. The first point Fiona made was that ‘you get what you pay for’. Unfortunately, many drone owners begin with a small, cheap drone and quickly decide to upgrade, wasting time and money.

David spoke with Fiona during the workshop about the types of drones available. As a result, David upgraded his drone to better suit his needs. His new device has better connectivity and less interference from trees. With advice from Fiona, he was able to trade in his old drone, bringing the price for the new one down to around $2500.

Access to this professional and objective advice would not have been possible, and likely not sought, without the workshop.

Benefits of using drones with livestock

David’s primary use of the drone was for mustering and moving stock located out on the rough, blade ploughed areas. These areas can be dangerous to ride across.

The use of the drone in the first year saw a substantial saving, estimated to be around $20,000. The saving is a result of being able to muster some of the large, rough holding paddocks with the drone instead of a helicopter. There will always be a need for a helicopter in the larger paddocks. Firstly helicopters are more efficient and practical, and secondly because of the need to maintain the drone in your line-of-sight. The drone is an additional tool, not a replacement.

David finds using a drone is less intrusive and stressful on the animal than mustering with a helicopter.

“The cattle settle and calm down much quicker once the drone is moved away in comparison to when they are moved by helicopter. It’s noticeable, particularly when we need to hold them on water after a muster, they show lower stress levels”.


In David’s experience, using drones to move and handle stock is like anything: a drone is only as good as the user. If you are careful and calm with how you use it, the animals will respond in the same way.

However there are some limitations, including:

  • Legal requirement to keep the drone in your line-of-sight.
  • Battery life — David gets around 15 to 20 minutes of operation before the battery runs out. He has invested in more batteries, sometimes going out in the paddock with 8 batteries and a 12-volt charger.
  • Operation is reliant on good weather as they do not operate well in windy conditions and are generally not water resistant.
  • Birds of prey often mistake drones for prey and cause significant damage if grabbed.

Other benefits of using drones

In addition to using the drone for mustering, David has found it useful when the channels are flooding. Putting it up to view the water height of channels further ahead reduces unnecessary risk of getting bogged and becoming isolated.

He has also used his drone for a small amount of aerial mapping and aerial photography on farm. Other social uses include aerial photography for friends and neighbours, and once for wedding.

Wrap up

David now considers his drone as another tool that he can use when needed.

“I always have it in the ute. When opportunities arise a new purpose or use is uncovered”.

The use of drones in grazing businesses is difficult. There is a lack of genuine understanding of how they can be applied and finding objective advice is difficult. This is confounded when coupled with uneducated retailers who are often unaware of the legalities, and provide little or no advice, that is sometimes incorrect with regards to safe and legal usage.

Information on basic drone safety rules to keep you and others safe as well as how the rules are enforced and what happens if you break them can be found on the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) website.

Based on what David learnt at the workshop, he has since become a licenced operator.


GrazingFutures would like to acknowledge the financial contribution and assistance provided by Queensland Health’s Tacking Regional Adversity Through Integrated Care program for the hosting of the Drone Fundamentals workshop in 2020.

This case study prepared by Gina Mace, ConnectAg, on behalf of GrazingFutures, June 2022