Getting the herd in? Try a drone

Getting the herd in? Try a drone
Simon Cotter installs a Goodnature possum trap in a pine plantation on-farm. He is eager to see the traps installed on other dairy farms and land areas along the Hunua Ranges.

Tucked away in one of the valleys at the base of the Hunua Ranges, south-east of Auckland, is a little family dairy farm, owned by Simon Cotter’s parents, Paul and Maureen.
The farm has been in the family since the late 1950’s when Simon’s grandparents, Pat and Frances Cotter, bought the property during the period when farms were made available following the War.
Today, Simon runs the farm mainly single-handedly. He was brought up on it for the first 11 years of his life before his parents began moving around the country sharemilking and developing farms.
Eventually Mum and Dad bought their current farm near Methven in Canterbury and, after years of the home farm in the North Island being managed by others, Simon returned in 2010 having acquired an education in IT followed by a Commerce degree from Canterbury University.
“This farm was run-down and badly in need of some tender loving care when I returned and since coming back here I’ve been steadily ticking the boxes to bring the farm back up to scratch,” says Simon.
Simon’s initial thoughts were to do a quick-fi x and leave the farm after a couple of years, however he admits he got ‘hooked’ and enjoys the challenges working on the farm offers.
The farm covers 110 hectare with 83ha as the milking platform. The balance is in pine and native bush. Milk is produced through an 18 aside herringbone with a connecting feedpad.
On average between 200 and 210 mainly Holstein Friesians cows are milked. To supplement grazing PKE, Maize and Grass silage are bought in.
“The farm gets very wet and muddy in the winter and very dry in summer. In the past eight seasons I’ve observed the weather becoming more unpredictable and violent. Last year saw the worst flooding ever seen on this farm and the wettest winter and spring ever.”
Simon’s a self-confessed IT disciple when it comes to employing smart technologies to help on the farm.
One of these, a DJI Inspire 1 Drone, is used to bring the herd in and in a number of other useful ways such as checking water-lines and giving Simon a birds-eye view of pasture condition.
“The drone is a great help in lots of ways. With the help of a Batt Latch opening the gate, I can launch the drone from the house or cowshed to round up any stragglers and bring the herd all the way up to the cowshed. Not only can I be doing something else while it takes care of bringing the herd in, but I can send it around the farm to check on how it is looking. Over the last few years it has saved me an enormous amount of time.”
Simon’s full of ideas to improve farm management systems by employing smart technologies.
Since a home invasion a couple of years ago he’s installed D-Link security cameras. They record to the cloud as well as give Simon a live view and playback via the app on his cell-phone from literally anywhere in the world.
“They cover the inside and outside of the house as well as on the power poll next to the cowshed which gives me good views of what’s going on around the shed and on the farm.”
Another idea, with a strong conservational sentiment, occurred to Simon one day while milking.
With a desire to protect native wildlife including the Kiwi population that has been recently released in the Hunua Ranges, he’s keen to create a joint venture between Goodnature™ traps and Fonterra to see traps installed on dairy farms and other land areas along the edge of the Hunua Ranges.
“I’ve contacted Goodnature who sound keen to get on board, but trying to get an answer out of anyone at Fonterra seems like a lost cause. It’s a project I think could really improve Fonterra’s image while helping to save our national symbol.”
Simon is also working with a couple of his IT mates from 3Bit Solutions, a small company that specialises in business solutions, to develop an effective ‘at the gate’ security system.
“The idea is that a box attached to the gate will recognise licence plate numbers and automatically open and close the gate based on tanker arrival times via on farm app. It seems such a simple idea and again I’ve been trying to get Fonterra involved.”
Now married and with a baby Simon says he’s settled and committed to improving the farm’s performance and the industry’s image.
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