by: Clifford Mitchell

Improvement comes with many platforms in the beef industry. Trying to keep track of all the data that explains enhancement in efficiencies or reveals there is something drastically wrong with conception rates or percentage of live calves is a challenge faced by many producers.

Record keeping has often had a life-form of its own and taken over a good chunk of a rancher's time. The cumbersome task of entering data and deciding what information is useful to help make decisions has plagued the industry for years. The ever-changing world of record keeping is getting a little easier with new and improved technology.

“We had to find a way to streamline record keeping, because time is valuable. Smart phones and I-pads have made data collection a lot easier than in the past,” says Terrell Miller, CattleSoft, Inc. and CattleMax, College Station, Texas.

“Four or five years ago it would take me two weeks to get caught up on paperwork during calving season. Today, we're able to enter information in the field with an I-Pad or I-Phone,” says Jay Wright, General Manager, W4 Herefords, Morgan, Texas.

New technology gives ranchers the ability to eliminate some of the paper trail when it comes to entering data. A daunting task if it's not kept current.

“Having accessibility to this information is very handy. When we enter it in the field, we can access it right away,” Wright says. “More valuable information gets recorded because we aren't waiting on someone to enter it. We all used to keep some sort of book in the pickup, but I have everything I need at my fingertips.”

“Most ranchers would record calving on paper, put the paper on the desk and all of a sudden they were so far behind on record keeping that it took a long time to get data entered,” Miller says. “Now that recording is done in the pasture. The more data that is collected in the field means the less work someone has to do at home. There is also less chance of error when it's recorded in the field.”

The “real time” data also allows producers to make some timely decisions. Incomplete record systems in the past have made this a difficult task. Too many outfits also had to rely on ranch head quarters to relay information to the field.

“The technology comes on two different levels. One is the basic concept of looking up information to keep track of things like where does this group of cows belong or when are they going to calve,” Miller says. “Then there is technology where we can look up single animals and make changes to that data set. Years ago if we were looking for a cow or wanted to know specific information, somebody had to call the headquarters and ask them to look it up.”

“We are probably not as efficient as we should be, but we have improved using our data to help make decisions. Day-to-day if you look at a group of cows or an individual, I can figure out what I need to do. Say we're pouring cows and this group isn't thrifty, I can figure out if we just overlooked that group or an individual in a timely manner,” Wright says. “The technology used with the I-Pad allows us to make some quick decisions vs. looking at paper records. If I am palpating cows, if we find an open cow, we know what her production record is and can make a decision what to do with her right then based on her history.”

Marketing programs seem to change as data sets broaden. Records will help provide information potential customers want tied to their next genetic purchase. Herd inventories and other specific information are also good for in-house management.

“We can have a lot of cows on our inventory at one time. They are all in the total herd reporting program with the American Hereford Association, so it's a lot of work. If someone needs a herd inventory for tax purposes, it is there for whoever wants it,” Wright says. “When I evaluate a group of calves, I know what sire group I am looking at right then. If I have a customer requesting a specific product, I can look it up on my I-Pad, no matter if I am at the ranch or not, and show that customer what's available. I have done a lot of business that way of recent times.”

“When everyone works with or has access to the same records it eliminates a lot of headaches,” Miller says. “The real time system allows producers to minimize stuff that isn't relevant to what they're doing and prioritize the data to help management or marketing.”

The tedious process of record keeping will command extra time if producer's don't work to improve efficiencies when it comes to data collection. It's probably not Star Wars technology, but products are also available to help eliminate some of the steps in the process.

“Strategically placed tag readers help with collection efficiencies. Information is all exchanged electronically it's not written down,” Miller says. “It's easier to create a vaccination record on 100 cows all at once than to try to do it individually. Looking up each cow and typing in the information is way too slow and time consuming.”

Technology and internet availability continue to improve. There are definite tools a producer can take advantage of and these devices are becoming more affordable to the rancher caught in a high cost world.

“Everybody has some sort of smart phone today, so that's not really an extra cost. It's just about learning ho to use it with your program,” Miller says. “It costs $200 for an I-Pad and $10 dollars for internet access. There are even deals available for slower devices. The only problem is the phones have a small screen.”

“The technology is affordable and user friendly,” Wright says. “I can get what I need with a password and a user number.”

Even though the younger generation has grown up with computers and the internet, the older generation, which fits most ranchers demographic, may have their doubts about the technology. The initial fear of the unknown is probably what holds most producers back allowing record keeping systems to suffer. The information that instantly becomes available has changed many a rancher from non-believer to having the high tech moniker.

“I will not lie to you and say I did not go “kicking and screaming” into the technology world, but low and behold my I-Pad is like my right hand,” Wright says. “It's a great tool and there is a plethora of information available. The more I use it, the more I rely on technology.”

Everybody knows what it's like to try to make decisions with day old information. It just does not work in most instances. Real time information will help streamline management and make proper decisions.

Eliminating long stretches in the office is news to most, providing Mother Nature is being a good girl that day. More importantly, ranchers can prioritize time to manage the ranch rather than entering data.

“Knowing I don't have to sit there and enter data for two weeks helps me a lot. I am still not ready to spend my days registering cattle, recording birth dates etc. when I can get horseback in the spring,” Wright says. “This helps me have a better handle on the pulse of the ranch and offer my advice to younger guys working for me. I get out and do it as often as I can because, I still enjoy it.”

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