Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Animal Agriculture

Animal Agriculture

UAV Benefits

  • Identify sick or down animals that need prompt treatment
  • Locate livestock across many acres
  • Search for mother and offspring and assess their health
  • Inspect fences quickly to determine if they need to be repaired, mowed or sprayed
  • View seasonal grazing patterns to determine future forage selection


Structural components: Barns and structures pose a risk to animal safety and the UAV.

  • Tip: Fly around structures, not over them, to maintain animal safety and prevent damage to the UAV.

Shadows: Extreme light contrasts in and around buildings, making it hard to see animals.

  • Tip: Try multiple camera settings and images to find the right balance.

Animal instinct: Animals may instinctively fear the sound or sight of the UAV.

  • Tip: Keep a close eye on behavior and take measures to acclimate livestock to the UAV’s presence.


Thermal cameras find cattle

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

During a sorghum feed trial, the researchers were having trouble with the heifers jumping the fence. We used a thermal camera to identify missing groups from an aerial view. No one needed to enter the paddock and the drone could operate outside of the study area to prevent invasion or spooking. This video shows the thermal image, identifying heifers using four yellow/orange dots.

Telescopic zoom to read eartags

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

Animal identification is key in keeping good records on livestock. Reading eartags in the pasture can be difficult – if not impossible – and can be problematic when needing to treat sick animals or provide routine care. Using the zoom function on drone is a quick and easy way to read eartag numbers without disturbing the animals.

Livestock reaction to UAV flight

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

A common concern when working with UAVs around livestock is whether or not the animals will be disturbed or frightened by the buzzing noise. Improper use of a drone, or any other piece of equipment, around animals could result in issues or accidents; however, the Purdue operators rarely run into any issues when conducting flights near livestock. Livestock are more curious than fearful of drones when operating at appropriate speeds and in close proximity to the animals.

Here are a few tips when operating a drone around animals:
- Do not use fast movements near the animals.
- Operate the drone at appropriate speeds and altitudes.
- If animals acknowledge and show interest in the UAV, it is best to fly in a consistent matter and not erratically.

The video below shows heifers reaction to a UAV flight.

Herd inventory

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

We are counting livestock using a stitched image from 300 feet up. On the ground, it is easy to locate animals in the recently grazed paddock (middle) but difficult in the newly opened paddock (right) due to vegetation height. Using this aerial image, we were able to quickly and safely get an entire herd count.

Counting animals

Here we are trying to collect a head count for inventory, but this image shows a major lighting challenge when dealing with structures. In the top image, we can only identify cattle near the feed bunk in the sunlight. The bottom image shows how adjusting exposure in the camera settings lets us see into the shadows. This is an operational call to strike a balance in image quality.

combined image of cattle in the dark and with increased contrast to brighten the image

By adjusting camera setting during flight, we quickly located a cow-calf herd in the shade at the Feldun Purdue Agricultural Center. Also located, but not pictured, was a small group of heifers.


Grazing patterns

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, and Dave Osborne, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension

A stitched plant-health map of cover crops shows a grazing gradient where patterns are starting to emerge. Animals were first released into the left paddock, and every day, a new paddock was made available. It is possible to see variation in the new cover-crop forage, most likely due to management practices.

Cover crop grazing patterns

In the images below, different forages were planted and cattle released for grazing on July 2 — with new paddocks becoming available through July 9. No back fencing was used, and by July 9, cattle had access to the entire pasture.

The first three images were stitched into a geometrically correct and detailed map — also known as an orthomosaic — to show preference for certain forages. Once cattle depleted preferred stock, they switched to less-desirable forage (Aug 2).

July 6


July 13


August 2


The plant health image below highlights the difference in cattle forage selections. Although green is a positive representation in most scenarios of remote sensing, it is the less-desired forage in this instance. Green indicates forages not consumed, designating inefficient feed sources.

July 13

Grazing Patterns Plant Health July 13

Checking water system

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

Checking this automatic water device by UAV allows a farm manager to remotely and quickly evaluate the status of all watering systems across the landscape. The quality of the image is important so we can see that the water is clean and the system is working properly from above ground.


The image below was taken from above the water station, facing the UAV base station and operator.


The last image, taken higher, locates the watering station and the UAV base station. We can quickly cover this distance using a UAV.


Manure management demos

Flown by Austin Pearson, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Tipton County

This video displays how manure management equipment is used for educational and marketing purposes. The equipment displayed here is used to agitate a lagoon for pumping and spreading as a fertilizer source. Most lagoon agitators are controlled from the bank, but an aerial view can give the operator a new perspective.

This boat floating manure agitator enters the lagoon to stir the hard manure on top and circulate the manure at the bottom. This ensures a consistent manure mixture for application.

This PTO-driven agitator is another common piece of manure management equipment.

After field demonstrations, the field was half-way mixed. Operators finished mixing the lagoon that afternoon, and the next day, pumped and spread the manure.


Liquid and dry manure application

Flown by Adam Shanks, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Clinton County

The videos demonstrate liquid and dry manure application to compare performance and pinpoint advantages and disadvantages. Video was collected from above, behind and to the side of each spreader which allows you to see different patterns and manure concentrations. It’s also possible to see residue from previous applications.


Flown by Dave Osborne, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Ripley County

In 2018, a few ponds were stocked with 30 pounds of tilapia and flown monthly from July through October to record how fish visibly influenced algae cover. This was repeated in 2019. The pond was stocked June 1 with 100 fish per acre at a size of 20 fish per pound. Fish grew 1.5 pounds and spawned twice.

You can see reduced algae cover from spring to late summer shows as the pond appears clearer.

Early season

Early season Tilapia


Mid-season Tilapia

Late season

Late season Tilapia

It was also possible to see nesting areas as the fish ate the algae. Tilapia nests are the light-colored circles at the bottom of the pond.

Tilapia Spawn