Aussie Activists Deploy $17,000 Drone to Spy on Factory Farms

An Australian animal rights group known as Animal Liberation is using a remote-controlled drone to keep tabs from the sky on industrial livestock operations. Factory farm owners in the Land Down Under don’t like that one little bit.

The hexacopter drone, nicknamed “Hector,” is barely larger than a radio-controlled toy. It set the Animal Liberation back a cool $17,000, however. The group spent $14,000 for the drone itself and an additional $3,000 to outfit it with a high-definition video camera, stabilizers and a 10x zoom lens.

Animal Liberation used their new drone recently to shoot video above an egg farm in Dora Creek, New South Wales. The farm advertises itself as “free-range” and therefore gets a premium price for its eggs from cruelty-conscious consumers. Animal Liberation is investigating whether that “free range” claim is legitimate. It says it is providing the footage to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for further investigation.

You can see the drone in action, as well as some of the video it has captured, here:

“[The drone] gives the opportunity to document from above 10 meters and below 30 meters, and it is lawful,” Animal Liberation executive director Mark Pearson told ABC Australia’s Landline. “[I]t’s actually vision that’s obtained without trespass, it’s obtained lawfully in our airspace so what it documents is something that can be used by all the authorities, police and the courts.”

The owner of the Dora Creek egg farm, Glenn Moncrieff, told ABC Australia that he lets his 65,000 hens outside every day, but coincidentally, the day Animal Liberation shot its aerial footage, all the hens were indoors being treated for worms.

“I find it extremely intrusive, I don’t believe these people should have the right to do what they’ve just done,” Moncrieff said. Some farmers promise they’ll shoot down a drone if they see one over their property.

Pearson says his group also has secret video shot inside the Dora Creek egg farm without permission. He doesn’t believe he or his group would be prosecuted for that trespass.

“I have been arrested and charged for trespass numerous times — about 12 times,” Pearson said. “I have no conviction as a consequence of those because the judge and the courts look at the situation, okay a person has gone and filmed and documented something, but look at what they’ve documented.”

Animal Liberation has three people trained to fly “Hector.” In coming months, the group plans to expand its aerial observation to keep an eye on cattle feedlots and live export facilities.

Drones are gaining ground as a popular and useful tool for environmental activist groups:

  • In 2011, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society tracked and followed a Japanese whaling fleet by using a drone.
  • An amateur drone operator taking photos in the skies above Dallas in early 2012 inadvertently discovered evidence that a meatpacking plant was discharging enormous amounts of pig blood to a creek.
  • An animal rights group in South Carolina called SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) intended to use a drone in February 2012 to video a live pigeon shoot, but it was shot down by an unknown person shortly after lift off.

Although amateur use of drones in the U.S. is legal in most states, activists in some states may be hard pressed to use this same technique to keep an eye on factory farms. State “ag gag” laws often include prohibitions against filming their operations, even from off-property.

For example, many of you will remember the arrest of Amy Meyer in April 2013 for violating Utah’s “ag gag” law. She was almost prosecuted for the simple act of shooting video from a public street of a downed cow being moved by a forklift outside a slaughterhouse.

It’s a safe bet that Amy’s arrest, the first-ever in the U.S. under a state “ag gag” law, will not be the last. So far, six states have active “ag gag” laws on the books: Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Iowa and Missouri. In addition, other states have attempted, or are still considering, enacting such laws, including Arkansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming.

In states where these attempts have failed, supporters will almost certainly try again. Industrialized factory farms really do not want you prying into how they do business. Makes you wonder what they’re hiding from you, doesn’t it?

With that in mind, will activists here try the drone idea as well? Right now, that’s kind of… up in the air.

Related Stories:

Photographer Jailed After Taking Aerial Pics of Cattle Feedlot

Woman Faced Jail Time For Dastardly Crime of Filming a Slaughterhouse

If Your Report of Animal Abuse Isnt Good Enough, Youll Be Charged

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo5 years ago

Thank you for the excellent news! We need to do the same thing in the states. (p, t)

Mark Donner
Mark Donner5 years ago

I prefer sentencing all commercial farming criminals to public execution who torture animals for their evil greed. Their feeble attempt to cover up criminal acts with paid off government officials and "ag-gag" attempts to destroy the rights of others who actually believe in morals should be considered a crime as well.

Marilyn Ashman
Marilyn K5 years ago

It's only used against factory farms to Protect the Welfare of the Animals. I'm sure others don't have a problem with where they aim it, since we have nothing to hide, and neither should anyone else. I'm for Protecting the Animals !! I don't give a damn for what anyone would see in my yard. I wish there were thousands more to go through Forested Areas, where hunters kill animals in a Cruel Manner, Africa where Baby Wildlife are left Orphaned because of Poaching, and other areas of the Planet that employ gruesome techniques towards Animals.

Dominic C.
Dominic C5 years ago

Its a fine line to be had. But I am leaning towards allowing drones to spy on animal farms for ill treatment. This actually is a good idea as well as farming corporations can do well to adjust their behavior and it comes to the treatment and slaughtering of animals.
Despite agreeing tacitly to the issue, its not however in my interest that drone activists become hooligans like those activists, on the Sea Shepherd. This becomes thuggish and definitely will be breaching criminal behavior and dangerous for many even though many are not directly guilty.

Ellen Gaston
Ellen Gaston5 years ago

Well since the government won't do anything to stop the atrocities, and actively covers them up, then this is what they deserve. Privacy is not a right when you are feeding your "product" to the public.

Mary L.
Mary L5 years ago

Long as their being used in a public venue. I'd have a problem with one in my yard though.

Annelies Haussler
liessi Haussler5 years ago

I heartily concur. If you have nothing to hide, you needn't fear scrutiny.

Eric Hurner
Eric Hurner5 years ago

Any farmer selling products on the open market should welcome inspection of his or her methods rather than resisting it. That is the whole essence of organic foods with trade marks like Demeter or Alnatura. Any farmer resisting legitimate groups like animal rights or environmental organisations should be boycotted.