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Cattleman blog: A new generation and the future of ranching

Kim Brackett Published on 02 December 2010
Bracketts son holds a wand reader

What do you think most consumers envision when they hear the word cowboy? Maybe an image of John Wayne? Or a character from “Lonesome Dove?” Doubtless, it is a rugged cowboy (or cowgirl!) in boots, hat and full cowboy attire. Campfires and cattle drives, not computers and cameras.

It may surprise many consumers to learn that cattle producers, those very same rough and tough cowboys, are firmly entrenched in the technology of the 21st century.

Like many of you, we use several different types of technology on our ranch. Computers, cell phones, cameras, GPS units, just to name a few. We use computers for a variety of applications: accounting, spreadsheets, cattle rations, grazing plans, working with maps, and accessing the Internet. We rely heavily on the Internet for weather forecasts, watching the cattle market, trading cattle futures, buying and selling cattle via on-line auctions and, of course, email. It is difficult to imagine running our operation without the benefit of computers.

Recently, my husband and I decided to introduce a new form of technology into our operation -- electronic ID tags. It is amazing to us that with the wave of a wand and the click of a stylus, we can instantly access all of our records on a particular calf or yearling. This system will streamline our record-keeping process and simplify our management decisions for these calves. In addition, we are enrolled in an age and source verification program, which requires the use of electronic ID tags.

Brackett's daughter holding an ear tag

Earlier this fall, while we were in the midst of processing calves, we showed the kids how the ID tags and wand reader worked. Each calf was brought into the chute and tagged in the left ear. When the wand was waved about 12 inches from the calf’s ear the readout displayed the calf’s tag number. It also showed other information we programmed into those specific tags; such as steer or heifer and the vaccinations or treatments that calf has received. It did not take the kids long to figure out that the person controlling the wand reader had the best job of the day. (Secretly, I think they were convinced the wand reader was a light saber from “Star Wars.”)

We had only been working for a few minutes when my 9-year-old son, who is always curious and never without a comment, started throwing questions at us. Aside from being inquisitive about how the system worked, he was also determined to figure out its limitations.

“Mom, why can’t they make the wand work so you don’t have to stand right next to the calf?”

“Dad, wouldn’t it be cool if you could wave the wand at a group of calves out in a field and the wand could read all of their tags at the same time?”

Dutifully, we agreed with our son.  However, we reminded him that although there is great potential for improving this technology, we are excited about what the wand reader and tags can do for our operation right now.

One of the Brackett's cows

It wasn’t long after this discussion that we read about the next generation of electronic ID tags. The new and improved systems will allow the wand to read multiple tags at a time and at a much greater distance than 12-18 inches from the tag. Hmmm…

Isn’t it nice to know that the next generation of cattle producers is keeping pace with the next generation of cattle technology? end_mark

Kim Brackett is a family rancher who lives near Three Creek, Idaho, and a member of the Cattleman’s Beef Board. Read more of her blog entries and photos at