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Ranching on the cloud

Robert Fears Published on 24 October 2013
Producers check herd information for accuracy.

Those who qualify as senior citizens have seen a lot of changes in ranching operations during our lifetimes.

Many of us grew up on ranches with outdoor toilets, kerosene lamps and screw worms.

At sale time, we trucked our cattle to the nearest stockyard, which could be an all-night drive.

Today we market and buy cattle through video auctions, the Internet, web pages and Facebook.

Production record-keeping has evolved from notes in a pocket-sized spiral notebook and numbers scribbled on the barn wall to computer-based systems.

Ranch profits are dependent upon production efficiency and good marketing skills, so it is important for producers to take advantage of the tremendous advancements in record-keeping technology.

It is hard to improve production if you don’t measure it and store the data for further analysis and comparisons.

Individual computer storage
Various types of herd management software have been available for some time. The software can be used to record and store data including animal breeding and pregnancy details, weights, treatment history, income, expenses and sales.

Most software can generate graphs and reports allowing the operator an opportunity to analyze the data.

Many cow-calf producers have been reluctant to adopt computer-based management systems because of various reasons. The most common excuses are:

  • The systems are too complicated.
  • I don’t have time to enter the data.
  • My computer may crash and I’ll lose all of my production information.

Adopting the use of new software is the same as becoming familiar with any piece of new equipment. First you have to have the desire to learn and approach the challenge with confidence.

The leading herd management software companies provide training in the classroom and online.

Once you have been trained, there are company experts available by telephone to talk you through any problems or difficulties that occur.

Like any technology or skill, the more you use it, the more proficient you will become.

Ranchers who have identified the potential benefits of computerized management systems have found ways to enter their data.

Some ranch managers carry portable computers in their pickups and record information when they first observe it.

Computers are also carried into corrals when cattle are being worked to record data such as cattle weights, weaning dates, animals culled and treatments.

Many managers are now replacing their portable computers with tablets and smartphones. Larger ranches sometimes hire people to enter herd management information into a software program.

Computers will crash for various reasons including age, lightning strikes and electrical power surges. They can also be physically damaged by dropping, fire or water. It is not uncommon for computers to be stolen.

Everything of value that is stored on the hard drive of a computer should also be stored on a disc or zip drive as a back-up.

This action will prevent loss of information if the computer does crash or is stolen. The bottom line is that perceived disadvantages of herd management software can be overcome.

On this ranch, animal information is recorded on paper and entered into a computer at the office.

Cloud computing
Cloud computing is now available with at least one cattle management software system.

The term “cloud computing” or the “cloud” describes a variety of computing concepts that involve more than one computer connected through a real-time communication network such as the Internet.

Other terms used to describe these systems are “web applications” and “web-based software.”

“Instead of downloading and installing software, cloud software is accessed by any modern web browser in the same manner that web-based email such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail/Outlook and AOL are accessed,” explains Terrell Miller of Cattlesoft Inc. “This makes it easy to access your records since there is no software to download or install.”

“Exploiting the cloud, you can safely and securely store your cattle records remotely and work with them using any device that has Internet access,” says Dr. Rodney Roberson, past executive director of United Braford Breeders.

“Using a cloud-based system, you can minimize the need for backing up your records and synchronize them among devices and users.

“Multiple users can access the records at the same time, as changes are real-time. You can grant controlled access to your records to anyone you want: ranch manager, absentee owner, your kid at college, breeding consultant, sale manager or anyone you want, as long as they have Internet access.”

One of the producer concerns about using the cloud is data security. Miller recommends, “It is important to talk with any cloud software provider and ask about security practices.

Questions to ask would be regarding both the software technologies used by the vendor as well as the security policy of the hosting provider where the software is hosted.

“Security monitoring by our hosting provider has been proven,” Miller relates. “One of our customers shut the door to his home office at about midnight on a Friday evening and accidently locked the cat inside.

The family went away for the weekend, and when they returned home, they found that the cat had ransacked the office. In addition, the cat had evidently played with the computer keyboard, linking it with the host provider.

“The company began receiving weird entries and immediately notified me that there was a problem with one of our customers’ computers. I checked with the customer and learned about the cat’s attempt to enter data.

“A big advantage of the cloud is that information can be entered from any computer and most smartphones as long as the user has the proper identification codes and passwords,” Miller continues.

“This ability makes record-keeping more efficient and versatile. Ranch hands can enter information into the system on their smartphone when the event occurs.

If they observe a cow calving, they can record the event and even include a picture of the calf. The manager can look at entered information anywhere he has access to a computer because everyone on the ranch is working with the same database.”

Supplying ranch employees with smartphones, tablet PCs or portable computers will benefit the ranch by making record-keeping everybody’s responsibility and spreading the workload. Record-keeping becomes an automatic event and keeps the task from becoming an insurmountable chore for one person.

It is easier to make good management decisions when you have instant availability to accurate, up-to-date data to use for guidance. Ranching in the cloud can make the operation more efficient and profitable.  end mark

Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Texas.

PHOTOS
TOP: It is important to check herd information for accuracy.

MIDDLE: Herd observations can be recorded on a smartphone or tablet and it is automatically entered into the database on the cloud.

BOTTOM: On this ranch, animal information is recorded on paper and entered into a computer at the office. Photos provided by Robert Fears.

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