Mustering drones no threat to dogs

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It was a dog’s — and drone’s — life in Lowburn recently.
The remote-controlled aircraft were employed for the second consecutive year in the Lowburn Collie Club’s annual dog trials.

Club secretary Pru Heaney, who placed third in the drone event, said four competitors took part in the competition, which is a novel addition to the club’s two-day annual sheepdog trials.

Despite the addition of drones to the traditional huntaway and heading dogs, the fact 300 sheepdogs took part in the competition showed their work was still vital, she said.
‘‘That was really strong numbers [of competitors] for us.’’

Drones are increasingly being used in agriculture and have proven to be particularly useful in mustering stock.
The drone competition involved moving sheep through flags in lieu of a dog, Miss Heaney said.
‘‘There are three sets of flags the sheep have to go through with the drones.
‘‘Scoring is based on the sheep being in the centre of the flags, the time it takes, and technique.’’

With 93 points, Miss Heaney, from the Nevis Valley, was beaten by one point by Cromwell musterer Tony Buchanan. Aaron Johns, from the Nevis Valley, won the event with 94.5 points.

The more conventional events attracted some ‘‘big names’’ the sheepdog trials world, who competed in the long head and the short head and yard competitions for heading dogs and the zigzag hunt and straight hunt for huntaways, Miss Heaney said.
The drone trails complemented what was always a successful event.
‘‘The weather was good, the sheep ran well, and we had really positive feedback,’’ Miss Heaney said.

The 106-year-old trials, held on Sugar Loaf Hill on State Highway 6, typically attract 60 to 80 shepherds and more than 300 dogs each year.
Winners go on to compete in national competition.