Sunbirds – How We Revolutionize Water Monitoring in Livestock Farming – Drones Information


MDH Pty Ltd is one of the largest cattle farms in Australia and its history goes back to 1827. Today, the family-owned and operated company operates 175,000 cattle on 3.5 million hectares in the outback of Queensland. MDH is known to strongly support and guide research and development in the beef industry.

Monitoring large properties

In more than half of 12 MDH properties, the water for the inventory comes from artificial wells and dams. These water points need to be checked twice a week and are critical to animal welfare, especially in times of drought. At Brightlands Station – a 2,500 km² remote site – the 50 water points are 10 km apart and up to 50 km from the homestead, making their inspection time-consuming and costly.

Replace costly solutions

MDH has five employees who fly 500 hours in fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft and drive around 200,000 km in four-wheel drive vehicles to monitor the water. The estimated cost of fuel, labor, maintenance, and vehicle tear and wear is half a million dollars a year. This is one of the main costs for the company and one of the most time-consuming unproductive activities. It is also an extremely polluting task in an industry that is constantly looking for ways to reduce its carbon footprint.

An innovation led by the producer

Sunbirds has developed a solution based on its solar powered drone and the needs of landowners. In contrast to IOT sensors, our drones not only provide data on the volume of water, but also an aerial view of the surroundings of a water point. It offers the same information as flying a pilot around the station. HD images taken by the drone are displayed on a map of the station and can be enlarged to get detailed information. Landowners have encountered water issues: low levels, poor quality, algae, leaks, etc. Other information includes fencelines violations, gates left open, wild animals, dead and stuck cattle, and various other anomalies.

A reliable and accurate system

Sunbirds has spent several months in the Queensland outback to ensure the reliability of its drones in a demanding environment. The results are excellent. The drones have proven that they can perform long-haul flights every day, even in hot and dusty conditions – up to 7 hours and 350 km. The quality, definition and accuracy of the images made them immediately feasible. Control and operation are straightforward, everything is automated from takeoff to landing, and integration into the airspace and operation of the station is safe and easy.

From achieving savings to adding value

Sunbirds replaces manned aircraft and land vehicles and saves fuel, labor and maintenance costs. Our drones are virtually maintenance-free, do not burn fuel, pollute them in any way, or require a pilot. In addition to reducing costs, we support station managers in optimizing their operations and provide information for better decisions regarding pasture management and cattle nutrition, health and growth.

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