Curriculum introducing drones as cost effective tools for improved efficiency in ecologically and socially responsible management of livestock grazing

Progress report for FNC20-1210

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $8,980.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Pigeon River Farm
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Robert Braun
Pigeon River Farm
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Established in 2003, Pigeon River Farm is a family owned and farmed 50-acre Organically-Operated facility located on the southern branch of the Pigeon River near Clintonville in Waupaca County, Wisconsin. Pigeon River Farm’s AWA certified chickens and livestock are pastured according to free range, rotational grazing practices.

Pigeon River Farm’s livestock and chickens are rotated through paddocks of high quality legumes and grasses. The legumes and grasses are then allowed to rest and re-grow, working with natural relationships and biological processes in order to:

* Keep chickens and livestock healthy and productive,
* Reduce the need for off-farm inputs;
* Preserve and improve natural resources;
* Protect habitat for wildlife;
* Produce high quality meat and eggs for local food systems,
* Secure farm sustainability for current and future generations

Pigeon River Farm currently raises:

* Layer hens housed in proprietary mobile shelters that are moved in the pasture on a 1-to-3 day basis in conjunction with the cattle and goats
* Scottish Highland Beef Cattle
* Meat Goats.


Traditional ag-technology programs do not currently include curriculum introducing drone technology as an effective farm management tool. The project will develop a 2-hour “drone use for livestock grazing operations” curriculum module in Worldwide Instructional Design System (WIDS) format for ag-technology instructors and other educators.  This curriculum module will be easily inserted into current ag-technology courses at the discretion of the educator. The curriculum will also be easily adaptable for use in a field day venue with live drone demonstration.

The multi-media WIDS-format curriculum module will present real-life examples of the ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible use of drones on Pigeon River Farm. Examples will include research data and footage demonstrating such things as:

  • Time and money saved using drones in routine grazing livestock monitoring and close inspection activities versus conventional in-person methods;
  • Ecological / environmental benefits of using drones versus conventional in-person grazing livestock monitoring methods;
  • Stress reduction by drone use when conventional in-person grazing livestock monitoring methods are either dangerous or unattainable.

The finished curriculum will be released to secondary and post-secondary ag-technology programs.  Multi-faceted feedback and effectiveness from the ag-technology programs will be compiled and documented in the final report.

Project Objectives:
  1. Establish benchmark by researching and documenting effects of Drone Technology in pasture management compared to conventional methods.
  2. Present early project concept at June 2019 MREA Energy and Sustainable Agricultural Fair in Custer, Wisconsin.
  3. Present / demonstrate proof of concept in September 2020 field day(s).
  4. Develop a 2 hour multi-media curriculum module in WIDS format for easy integration into ag-technology programs.
  5. Distribute finished curriculum module to ag-technology programs through website, social media, and live presentations.
  6. Compile multi-faceted feedback and effectiveness data from ag-technology programs into a final project report.


Materials and methods:

The project will initially verify the savings of time, money and resources Pigeon River Farm has experienced by using drones. This will be done by establishing a benchmark of the time, money and resources expended without the use of drones for a 10-day period. The same data will then be collected over a 10-day period while using drones. A comparison analysis and formal report will then be completed including functional benefits and limitations of both methods.

Daily drone flights will routinely observe and document many factors, including:

  • Cattle and goats movement within the paddock and pasture;
  • Potential cattle or goat distress, aggression, or agitation;
  • Possible cattle or goat breeding or birthing;
  • Possible predator activity;
  • Fencing infrastructure
  • Poultry overwatch of conditions not seen on the ground

Night-time drone monitoring flights with thermal imaging will also be conducted for comparison.

Monthly project reports will be prepared by compiling and analyzing the month’s data.  These reports will be used to prepare formal multimedia presentations and informational/educational materials, and will be ultimately used in the curriculum module. This will benefit farmers and ranchers with verified drone data from a live case study introducing the potential benefits of drone technology to the overall agricultural infrastructure.

The project will also hold field-days to present project findings to local educators and the greater farming community. This will further benefit educators, farmers and ranchers by allowing educators and local farmers first-hand experience in the relative ease of operating a drone.

Curriculum module will include videos and PowerPoints showing drone’s view, the operator controlling the drone, and a “bird’s eye” view taken from a second drone for a complete understanding of the operations.

Multi-faceted feedback and effectiveness from all curriculum users will be compiled into a final project report and distributed to project stakeholders.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Journal articles
1 On-farm demonstrations
1 Published press articles, newsletters
2 Tours
1 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

28 Farmers
4 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Between the summer of 2020 and 2021, we had approximately 30 farmers observe the drone being utilized around livestock. This was a combination of guests on our farm and tours of their farm to demonstrate the viability of utilizing a drone and to gather data based on the interaction with the livestock on the participating farm. Additionally, we had a number of agricultural educators come to the farm to see the drone interacting with the livestock. On July 22, 2020, I participated in a GrassWorks event that was geared toward introducing K-12 students into the agricultural industry. This was an excellent opportunity to show young people some of the advanced tools that are being utilized in sustainable agriculture. August 4 of 2020 the drone project was written up in AGRI-VIEW  newspaper and we received excellent feedback from farmers within our local community and the farm. Additionally, channel 5 TV out of Green Bay Wisconsin did a segment on the drone project on their Saturday morning farm show. This was done in conjunction with Fox Valley Technical College on the farm during the filming to add technical feedback while the drone was being used to manage cattle.

Our August 19 field demonstration day was very successful. We had a total of 15 pasture-based livestock farmers and agricultural educators attend our pasture walk/drone demonstration. A complete tour of the farm was given to familiarize the attendees with the size and scope of the operation. Next two drones were utilized showing the attendees the efficiency and ease of use. The group gathered into our shop after the drone demonstration and were treated to refreshments and a light meal. The curriculum was presented with a projector showing the videos. Great feedback was given and is being utilized as we work toward the final product.

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

The drone is utilized in a diverse array of settings while developing the curriculum on different farms and different livestock. Confidence continues to build around the viability of utilizing the drone in a day-to-day livestock management environment. A variety of techniques have been developed and are being integrated into the curriculum.

The data and video gathering have intensified in scope and quantity during the spring and early summer of 2021. With it being easier to make farm visits and interact with livestock experts this year versus last we are getting very close to full production of the training modules. We are taking advantage of the good weather and easy access to farms to verify concepts that will be integrated into the curriculum.

Project Outcomes

2 New working collaborations
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.