Sunbirds – How We Revolutionize Water Monitoring in Livestock Farming

MDH Pty Ltd is one of Australia’s largest beef cattle operations, and its history dates back to 1827. Nowadays, the family owned and operated business runs 175,000 head of cattle across 3.5 million hectares in outback Queensland. MDH is well known for strongly supporting and leading research and development within the beef industry.

Monitoring huge properties

In over half of 12 MDH properties, the water for the stock comes from man-made bores and dams. Those water points require inspections twice a week and are vital for animal welfare, especially in times of drought. At Brightlands station – a 2,500km² remote property – the 50 water points are 10km apart and as far as 50km from the homestead, making them time-consuming and costly to inspect.

Replacing costly solutions

MDH employs five people, who fly 500 hours in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft and drive about 200,000km in four-wheel drive vehicles to monitor the waters. The estimated cost is half a million dollar a year in fuel, labour, maintenance and vehicle tear and wear. It is one of the main expenses for the company and one of the most time-consuming non-productive activities. It is also a highly polluting task in an industry that is always looking at ways of reducing its carbon footprint.

A producer-led innovation

Sunbirds has developed a solution based on its solar powered drone and on landholders’ requirements. Contrary to IOT sensors, our drones don’t just provide water volume data : they also provide an aerial view of the area surrounding a water point. It gives the same level of information as flying a pilot around the station. HD pictures taken by the drone are displayed on a map of the station and allow to zoom in to get detailed information. Landholders have identified water issues : low level, poor quality, algae, leaks etc. Other information include breaches in fencelines, gates left open, feral animals, dead & bogged cattle and several other abnormalities.

A reliable, accurate system

Sunbirds has spent several months in outback Queensland to ensure the reliability of its drones in a demanding environment. The results are excellent, the drones have proven their ability to perform long range flights – up to 7 hours and 350km – every day even in hot and dusty conditions. The quality, definition and accuracy of the pictures made them immediately actionable. The piloting and operations are straight-forward, everything being automated from take-off to landing, and the integration in the station’s airspace and operations is both safe and easy.

From generating savings to adding value

Sunbirds replaces manned aircraft and land vehicles saving fuel, labour and maintenance costs. Our drones require virtually zero maintenance, don’t burn any fuel, nor do they pollute in any way or require a pilot. In addition to cutting costs, we help station managers optimize their operations and provide information for better decision-making regarding pasture management and cattle nutrition, health & growth.