Keeping Records Electronically

Keeping Records Electronically

By Maura Keller

Livestock management is currently undergoing a remarkable transformation. Gone are the days when keeping track of herd information – including health history and breeding information of each animal – was charted on paper filing systems, with little means of sharing that information readily and easily with others. Today’s livestock operations are utilizing electronic record-keeping systems to make better, more profitable management decisions.

As Meghan Bochanski, growth manager at Herdwatch explains, the majority of producers already have a cell phone on them throughout the day, which essentially means that they always have all facets of information about their herd in their hand.

“From herd information, cow history, treatments and breeding information, herd data is accessible from anywhere, at any time,” Bochanski says. From small to large ranchers, electronic record-keeping is streamlining all information to one central location. As Bochanski explains, by embracing digital record-keeping technology, there are no more calving books being lost, dropped in the mud or put through the washer.

“Electronic record keeping systems play many roles in agriculture today. Most producers keep records not only for themselves, but also for the banker, consultants, and other stakeholders,” says Chad Glover, sales consultant at Red Wing Software, which offers CenterPoint, a full suite of agricultural accounting, payroll, and depreciation software. “Each of those people are looking for a little bit different information and electronic records allow easy access to it all.”

From the producer’s standpoint electronic records allow the producer to make informed business and financial decisions because they have all the information at the tip of their fingers. As Glover points out, these systems help the producer take the emotional side of the equation out of the decision-making process.

In the beginning most electronic record-keeping systems were fairly basic accounting systems.  Today, most systems allow the producer to track every input to every field or animal.

“This allows the producer to break their operation down to help them understand where they are profitable and where they are not,” Glover says. That information then allows them to make decisions on what they should continue to do and what areas of the operation they need to improve on.

“Important herd data also is secure and the most important aspect of record-keeping is the ability to use herd data to make important management decisions. And contrary to popular belief, these systems are designed to fit different management styles,” Bochanski says. Platforms like Herdwatch are being utilized in diverse operations, and are easily adaptable to any environment.

Specifically, Herdwatch offers an all-encompassing herd management platform assisting producers in making more informed management decisions. The cloud-based software gives producers access to their herd information from anywhere, at any time. With features like a digital calving book, treatments and medicine inventory, breeding and pregnancy management, as well as setting jobs and tasks to be completed, Herdwatch simplifies the day-to-day job for producers.

“Insights and reports are able to be pulled from all of the data in the system and help bring profitability to the forefront of all herd management decisions,” Bochanski explains.

So what are some of the key benefits to these electronic record-keeping systems? Namely, streamlined herd management whereby all data is stored is one location is one of the biggest benefits. Electronic record-keeping systems also help producers use data to make better decisions.

“And come tax-time, all you need to do is export required information,” Bochanski says.

Of course, for tech-savvy producers, these systems are easy to assimilate into their operations, but for others, using technology is daunting so it is important to evaluate each system to determine how easy they are to use.

“The task of getting started and getting information uploaded can be intimidating,” Bochanski says. “We always tell our producers just start recording from today and we will take care of the rest for you. You will thank yourself in six months.”

Key Considerations
When evaluating electronic record systems and services, there are some key attributes that producers should consider. Firstly, they need to make a list of what they currently record on their operation so they know what they are looking for.

As Bochanski explains, to best streamline their operation, producers should look for a cloud-based system that allows herd data to be accessed from multiple devices and is available to them at their fingertips.

“Customer support is also essential. A company that will help upload current herd data and provide onboarding as well as assistance when help is needed is a must,” Bochanski says. Cost is also an important factor to consider, although it is important to understand that making the financial investment in an electronic record-keeping system will not only better your operation, but also allow the producer to make more profitable management decisions and see the return in their investment.

Glover recommends that the first thing producers need to consider in choosing a record-keeping system is what information are they looking for and what are they going to use the system for?  For example, are you just looking for a record-keeping system for tax purposes, or are you looking to gain a better understanding of your business and use this as a tool to aid in the decision-making process?

“Second, who are you keeping records for? Will the banker need financial statements you’re your operating loan, will consultants need records to help guide your business decisions, and are there other stakeholders you will need to provide financial information to?” Glover says.

Next, producers need to decide if they want a basic, off-the-shelf accounting product, or if they want something geared specifically towards agriculture. Finally, the producers should consider the company/service they want to work with.  What does the company provide for support, is the software updated regularly, and can you get ahold of someone if you have questions?

Continuous Improvement
As with most technologies, these is a level of continuous innovation and advancement that has emerged with electronic record service programs. Bochanski believes the opportunities for electronic record keeping systems are endless.

“With the industry moving more into the sustainability space, there is a need for better herd records and with better records there is the opportunity to get more money back in the pockets of our hard-working producers,” Bochanski says. “Give the platform a chance before shutting the door on the idea of using an electronic record-keeping system – many of our producers say they don’t know how they kept track of everything before Herdwatch. In today’s world, if a quality person showed up ready to work, you would not say ‘no’ to them. Using a platform to track records is the same idea – essentially you are adding another hand to your team.”

A few common mistakes Glover sees producers make as it relates to electronic record-keeping systems include purchasing a system based on price alone. You get what you pay for applies to today’s record keeping systems.

“Another mistake is not doing your homework before you purchase. Almost all software companies offer free trials of the software or live product demonstrations. Take advantage of those offerings while in the decision-making process. Talk to your peers, your banker, your consultants,” Glover says. “See what they are using and what they recommend. Lastly, ask the questions you need answered to make an informed decision. With the way technology is progressing today the possibilities are endless.

Producers have adopted technology in their farming equipment at a rapid rate with things like yield monitors and precise spraying and planting technologies. I don’t see any reason this won’t be the case on the record keeping side of the business as new technologies emerge.”

Beyond Pen and Paper: Herd Management with Software Solutions

Beyond Pen and Paper: Herd Management with Software Solutions

By Jaclyn Krymowski

Managing a herd is difficult enough, especially with limited help. Keeping insufficient records, or not being able to properly analyze them, can make the job exponentially more difficult and even hurt your profitability with inaccurate information.

Fortunately, as technology advances, there is a plethora of innovative electronic record-keeping systems designed to streamline herd management. These systems offer diverse options, allowing individuals to tailor their choices to the specific needs and nuances of their unique situations.

Today’s Cattle Software Market
There are different ways herd management software functions and records or collects data. That includes everything from manual data entry to using image and movement capture with sensors. As time has gone on, we’ve found more metrics to measure and quantify and many management systems will incorporate a broad spectrum – for example, financial data and feeding data.

There are cases to be made for using a single, multi-functional system or multiple specialized ones, but it should come down to what is the best for your needs and managing only what is relevant to your operation.

If you are considering a new record management system or upgrading what you have, put together a list of questions to guide your decisions. Some basic things you might want to ask might be:
• What are the most important data points for your business? Is it feed performance, growth or productivity?
• Consider your facilities. Do you have animals across multiple properties or pens/pastures with movement you’ll need to track?
• Do you prefer to keep your herd records and finances separate or combined?
• What types of data do you already track and how well has it served you?
• How involved is your off-farm team of veterinarians, consultants and other professionals? Will they need access to your system?
• How much time do you want to dedicate to data input and analysis?

Remember, a big point of software and the data you are collecting is that you can apply it to make decisions. You want to have a way that not only saves you time and labor but is also simplistic enough to be used by anyone else on your team and reduce the margins of human error.

In the initial stages, determine the level and cost of software. Some programs have specific cattle information, and that data can then be sorted or generate reports.

“Every cow-calf operator must determine the amount of time available to devote to practical recordkeeping and weigh this commitment against software costs, data entry features and desired summary reports,” write Oklahoma State University writers Courtney Bir and Brent Ladd in their bulletin Cow-Calf Production Record Software.

The more data that is collected and inputted, the more there is to analyze and, hopefully, enhance your decision-making. That said, understanding the basics of data ownership and access is also worth the time whenever working with third-party software. Data ownership is still relatively new to the agriculture world and how it is used and protected is still evolving. Depending on the size of your operation and the type of data you’ll be collecting, this may or may not be a huge concern.

Regardless, it’s wise to review the policies and contracts of platforms you utilize to fully understand how they safeguard the data you generate and determine who retains ownership rights.

Cost and Profitability
One element worth considering is the cost that will be associated with your system, be it upfront or recurring. Besides any direct fees, if you opt for a more electronic or automated route, you have additional costs by way of RFID ear tags, pedometers or cameras.

However, keep in mind that the return on your investment is a long-term gain and may not be a dollar-per-dollar equivalent. How you can use the data you are now collecting can allow you to make more informed decisions that boost efficiency and reduce waste.

It’s also worth noting that you want a system that’s easy to use for you and anyone involved on your team. Before making a new purchase or getting an upgrade, be sure to request a thorough demo and make sure you are comfortable with how the system works and organizes data. Something as simple as the user interface and data visualization can make a big difference in how it works for you.

Looking Down the Road
There is still plenty of room for growth in the technology currently being used. The data-specific points can be adapted to better serve your needs.

“By considering specific record needs, the producer is better equipped to choose an appropriate software package,” write Bir and Ladd. “The hardest steps to valuable recordkeeping are (1) making time for recordkeeping, (2) determining the herd information that is economically feasible to collect and (3) summarizing the herd data for use in the decision-making process.”

Remember that technology is constantly changing and the way we use it to manage our animals is also changing. Constant real-time data at the tip of our fingers makes it easier to not only make important decisions, but to be able to keep an eye on the herd while away.

Embracing technology in herd management is a pivotal step for ranchers looking to enhance the efficiency and profitability of their operations. As technology continues to evolve, it provides valuable tools for expanding facilities and gaining a competitive edge in the industry.

“Many of the programs accommodate both commercial and seedstock cattle needs. Seedstock producers should check with their breed association for software package availability and recommendations prior to purchasing software for registered cattle records,” advise Bir and Ladd.

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