Distance examination of livestock with drones - an effective method for assessing health and welfare

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Australian Veterinary Journal




livestock, drones, animal health, agriculture, dpird, wa, western australia


Animal Sciences


Distance examination is an important part of veterinary investigation into ruminant herd health and welfare. The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) explored the use of drones to conduct assessments of the health and welfare status of sheep and cattle. Three methods of distance examination were compared comprising observations; from a vehicle, a “micro” category drone and a “very small” category drone. The disturbance and behavioural reactions caused by the methods were compared. Assessments of adverse health and welfare conditions by each method were compared to observations made at yarding. The preferred method was the use of the very small drone which had the best sensitivity for detection of conditions potentially associated with adverse health or welfare and the best optics at a distance that did not disturb the animals. The optics of the very small drone enabled distance examination without disturbance in both cattle and sheep. Cattle were more sensitive to the presence of the drones than sheep. The micro drone was unable to approach cattle close enough to allow undisturbed distance examination. All methods had similar specificity, however, sensitivity varied markedly. The very small drone had the best sensitivity 86% which was statistically greater than the micro drone (44%, P = 0.05) and better than the vehicle observations, which had sensitivity of 77% (not statistically significant). The selection of an appropriate drone model is essential for accurate distance examination. Distance examination of livestock with drones of suitable optic quality and resolution represents an effective method for assessing animal health and welfare.