Even cowboy jobs may not be safe from robots

“It’s 110 degrees and you’re wearing a coat and bull-hide leggings and no air gets through,” Bonds said. “Getting a good enough man to be able to go through that brush and take it, there’s not any of them left.
There are a lot of other uses that drones can be put to on the ranch other than just checking cattle. — jtl


By Matt McFarland From the Washington Post via Richard Beal’s Bog

An Australian professor is developing a robot to monitor the health of grazing livestock, a development that could bring big changes to a professionthat’s relied largely on a low-tech approach for decades but is facing a labor shortage.

Salah Sukkarieh, a robotics professor at the University of Sydney, sees robots as necessary given how cattlemen are aging. The average age of a farmer in Australia is 52, according to the Australian Farm Institute.

Sukkarieh is building a four-wheeled robot that will run on solar and electric power. It will roam pastures alongside livestock and monitor the animals using cameras, thermal sensors and infrared. A computer system will analyze video footage to determine whether a cow is limping. Radio tags on the animals will measure temperature changes. The quality of pasture will be tracked by monitoring the shape, color and texture of grass. That way, cattlemen will know whether they need to move their herd to another field for nutrition purposes. He plans to run trials later this year and is aiming for the final product to cost about as much as an ATV.

Machines have largely taken over planting, watering and harvesting crops such as corn and wheat, but the monitoring of cattle has gone through fewer changes.

For Texas cattleman Pete Bonds, a former president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, it’s increasingly difficult to find workers interested in careers watching livestock.

“It’s 110 degrees and you’re wearing a coat and bull-hide leggings and no air gets through,” Bonds said. “Getting a good enough man to be able to go through that brush and take it, there’s not any of them left.

But Bonds doesn’t believe a robot is right for the job. Years of experience in the industry — and failed attempts to integrate technology — have convinced him that the best way to check cattle is with a man on a horse. Bonds, who bought his first cattle almost 50 years ago, still has each of his cowboys inspect 300 or 400 cattle daily and look for signs that an animal is getting sick, such as a steer that doesn’t stretch when standing up.

Watch this robot cowboy herd cows (Click HERE)

A pilot investigation regarding the behavioral response of dairy cows to a robot. This work was done in collaboration with the Dairy Science Group, University of Sydney. (Australian Centre for Field Robotics)

Other cattleman see more promise in ground robots. Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, said a roving robot that stays with livestock 24-7 could be extremely useful given rising concerns about cattle thieves. Cattle tend to be located in remote locations and their value has risen, making them appealing targets.

Kelsey said that the younger cattlemen in Oklahoma are beginning to experiment with another type of robot — drones — to remotely check on the location of cattle. Some use a drone’s thermal sensor to pinpoint the location of a missing cow that could be hidden in the brush.

Kelsey said the drones don’t stress the animals because cattle tend not to look up. He mentioned there would be concern that a land robot could startle cattle, but he thinks that if one is carefully introduced, the animals would acclimate to it.

Sukkarieh’s plan for a robot goes a step further than the use of drones that Kelsey describes. His robot would be automated and operate independently, which would reduce labor costs. A cattleman would receive an occasional notification that a specific animal needed human attention.

But for some in the business, an influx of machines could remove some of the fun of raising livestock.

“A lot of times it’s the therapeutic side of what they do, going to check on their cattle,” said Tyler Dupy, executive director of Kansas Cattlemen’s Association. “If you inject robots into the mix, then they wouldn’t have any interest in doing it anymore.”

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The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)  The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2) The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3) 

A Handbook for Ranch ManagersA Handbook for Ranch Managers.  In keeping with the “holistic” idea that the land, the livestock, the people and the money should be viewed as a single integrated whole: Part I deals with the management of the natural resources. Part II covers livestock production and Part III deals with the people and the money. Not only would this book make an excellent basic text for a university program in Ranch Management, no professional ranch manager’s reference bookshelf should be without it. It is a comprehensive reference manual for managing the working ranch. The information in the appendices and extensive bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.

You might also be interested in the supplement to this Handbook: Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual.


About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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2 Responses to Even cowboy jobs may not be safe from robots

  1. Rich says:

    I am so tired of hearing how OLD the average farmer or rancher is. The first time I heard that was from Oren Lee Staley in 1970 when he warned that the average age of farmers in the US was then over 60. The audience gasped with alarm, sure that agriculture would end as soon as all those guys died. It’s just one more version of doomsday…


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