The Internet. It's becoming as much a part of cattle conversation as nutrition, weaning weights, expected progeny differences, prices and weather.
A couple of years ago it was relatively new. But now as we grow closer and closer to the next century, cowmen are finding more and more reasons to be "on the net."
In this article we will look at some of the inventive ways the net is being incorporated into the cattle business and provide an overview of how it works.
The cattle industry is now a large community on the Internet. For example most breed associations now maintain multiple sites on their breed, have their sire summaries on the web, and some have the editorial portion of their magazines on line. Individual breeders have their own home pages and there are also listing services that allow you to place cattle for sale, on-line.
Cattle Feeding Associations, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), dairy organizations, etc. all maintain addresses with multiple listings. Sale barns are also on line with current information on runs, prices and upcoming special consignments.
In addition extension services nationwide now maintain sites and place extensive
information about agriculture on to the web daily.
Universities and pharmaceutical companies and others maintain pages to help you with questions you have in your operation.
Up-to-date weather information is just a click away on the web, as well as the latest in cattle and grain prices, stock exchange news and trading information.
Computer companies have addresses that allow you to access them 24 hours a day for technical support and you can even purchase additional software through the computer and download immediately after paying for it with a credit card.
You can buy and sell equipment through the internet as well as research equipment purchases, real estate for sale, find out about FFA and 4-H activities on a national as well as state level, read volumes of information on any subject in beef cattle production.
The best part about the internet may be that you can do all this when it fits your schedule and in the comfort of your own home or office.
Some of these sites are even interactive, meaning you can read the information and type in comments of your own. Some sites have special sounds, music, pictures and many are very artistic.
Plus there is also the email feature of the internet. Computers can send messages to any other computer user with Internet access in the world as long as the recipient's email address is known. Internet email is fast to say the least. Most messages arrive at the recipient's address within seconds of the time they are sent.
And individual ranches are on-line. These are similar to a page(s) advertisement in a magazine. Interested parties can call and look at these if they know the homepage address; however in most cases each ranch is linked with their breed association or their individual breed or service. Most business homepages use a form of their company name and can be located through search engines by keying in the name.
The American Angus Association (AAA) is considered a leader in the cattle computer world. Their magazine, Angus Journal, their sire summary and lots of other information can be found on-line.
"The advantage of having the sire summary on line is that it is interactive. A breeder can enter criteria for bulls they are looking for (age, EPD requirements, etc.) and with a press of a button it will come back and tell you all the bulls that match. In addition it includes the owner and breeder of animal and a three generation pedigree, says Scott Johnson, director of Angus Herd Management Systems (AHMS) for the AAA.
AHMS, is a Window™ based software package provided by the AAA. It does on-site record keeping, maintains pedigrees, holds registration information, monitors EPDs, and assists with breeding decisions. This information can be exchanged between the breeder and association by three methods - disc, modem or email.
"We are finding more and more people are choosing to exchange data by attaching to an email. It's easier than the other two methods and we also send a large volume of information back to our breeders by email. It's fast, cost effective and convenient," says Johnson.
Johnson is quick to add, "the surprising part is how reliant people are on it."
"Once they get used to using the mail capability of the Internet, they don't want to go back to doing things the old way. We find all ages are using it and it's not just the younger breeders by any means," says Johnson.
V8 Ranch, a registered Brahman operation, owned by the Williams' family, Hungerford, Texas was one of the first individual ranches to develop a homepage and they have been very pleased with the results.
"The number of people looking at our page varies with how many search engines we have it listed with and I have used different ones. I would estimate that we get at least 200 people looking at our page each month," says Luann Williams, adding "the big advantage of being on line has been who we are reaching. We are reaching a new clientele -- lots of folks who are moving to acreage and want a small registered herd and lots of junior customers, particularly those who have calf scramble certificates."
She quickly adds, "we feel this has been a very good investment for V8 and has resulted in sales. It is also a plus in the area of communication."
"We have lots of foreign customers and the Internet has really helped us to communicate with them better through email. I am able to scan photos of animals, then send by email and they get them immediately. Also because the American Brahman Breeders Association is on line with their sire summary and other data, I am able to access information to send to prospective customers much faster."
Scott Sanders, Starkville, Miss. runs Cyberstockyard (www.cyberstockyard.com), which is an online auction business.
"We have developed software that allows people to use the Internet to buy cattle at registered and commercial auctions," says Sanders.
It works this way. Sanders pre-enters information on each lot of cattle and then customers who have pre-registered with him are able to access him through the Internet and are on line during the sale from their home or office. They see a description of each lot and sometimes photos and key in their bid, which shows on his computer and he raises his hand and bids at the auction.
"We are doing registered cattle auctions and also working with some of the major video auction companies. We currently have over 600 buyers registered with us and we have been in business just a little over a year," he adds.
Another facet of Cyberstockyard includes order buyers.
"There are over 5,000 order buyers in the United States. We have created a network on the Internet for them to have access and do business with each other," says Sanders.
He will tell you it has been hard to convince both buyers and folks hosting the sales to incorporate Cyberstockyard, but it is working and growing daily.
Cain and Leslie Neal, College Station, Texas operate a company called The Cattle Pages (www.cattlepages.com). This is a listing service for cattle ranches, services, supplies and equipment and came on line in late 1995.
"We currently have over 7,000 ranch listings on the Internet. What we provide is a listing service -- ranch name, address, phone number and they are linked by breed or under commercial cattle. Someone looking for Brangus cattle can find our customers with Brangus cattle for sale under Brangus. We also maintain an equipment referral listing, which has categories like trailers, tractors, etc.," she says.
Neal says their site averages more than 2,000 hits (people actually looking at their website) a day, In addition to maintaining the listings they also develop homepages for ranches/companies wishing to have more information on line.
Cowman's Choice (www.cowmans.com) is a Cooper, Texas based company that is multi-faceted in terms of promotion and marketing. In addition to the Internet, the company specializes in co-op advertising, farm and livestock show representation, and a referral service.
"We see the Internet has an alternative marketing method. We develop home pages for primarily registered breeders, but also have some commercial cattlemen using our website to promote what they have for sale. We currently have 14 breeds represented through us and we do a lot of work with Beefmaster breeders," says Tim Couch with Cowman's Choice.
During the winter months the company received approximately 45,000 hits a month with about 10 percent of that activity from foreign countries.
"We are able to take what people are wanting to buy and match it with what our customers have. We refer the prospective buyer to the seller and then it's up to them to make the sale," describes Couch.
He adds they also receive requests to tour ranches in certain areas and these are referred to ranches in the requested locations.
"We work closely with the Central States Beefmasters Association as they have endorsed our marketing program and have their own homepage," says Couch.
These are just a few of the ways the Internet is changing the cow business and from all indications, marketing via the "Information Superhighway" is not down the road, but here.
(Reprinted with permission from the Weekly Livestock Reporter Southwest Reference '98.)