I heard an interesting statement the other day from a Chicago mom, who said “I didn’t realize that agriculture was such a science! I thought you just put your seed in the ground, harvested it in the fall and that was it.” While she was referring to row crop production, raising beef cattle is also much more complicated than running some cows with a bull and selling the offspring in the fall. Contrary to popular belief, farmers and ranchers are some of the first people to embrace new technology because it makes us more effective at optimizing our cattle’s performance and welfare. I’d like to share a handful of the ways we utilize new technology in my clinic and ranch to meet these goals.
Obviously the smartphone has changed the way the world works. This in turn has changed the way we manage our livestock. Now there are apps that can allow a farmer to take records in the field, see current and future weather conditions instantly from the seat of his tractor, follow the markets up to the minute to know when to buy and sell, and much, much more. Before, all these things were done by paperwork, which if that sounds tedious consider how much more tedious that would be when you’re trying to squeeze it in between calving and planting.
App development now isn’t only for computer jocks in offices. In my spare time using some free software from MIT I was able to develop an app for Android that allows a cattlemen or veterinarian to calculate when all of their main herd health events should occur based on the first day of calving or bull turnout. If you want to check out my Cattle Calving Calendar, it is available at the Google Play store.
Cattle identification has changed as well. While ear tags and freeze brands are still the most common forms of individual animal ID, electronic identification (EID) tags are starting to become more common. An EID tag looks like a little circle that buttons in the ear like a regular ear tag. It codes for a unique ID number for the animal. It can be read when an electric wand is waved over the tag, which connects directly to the unique ID directly to the farm or ranch’s computer system. This eliminates the need to write down numbers for each specific animal when taking records of each treatment, lowering the paperwork and speeding up the access to critical information.
Nutrition in livestock is a complex topic. Just like human nutrition, each component of the diet needs to be perfectly balanced for energy, protein, vitamins, etc. This can come from plethora of feed sources such as corn, distillers grains, cottonseed hulls, potato peelings, and even bakery waste. Add to this that cattle get a fair amount of their diet from grazing whatever plants they feel like and it becomes even more complicated.
To make it easier to balance diets, programs are available to help farmers and ranchers decide how much of each ingredient to feed. Samples of each ingredient are analyzed in a lab to determine the energy, protein, and mineral content. Then these values are plugged into the program, where the cattleman works with adding the right amounts of each ingredient to obtain that ideal balance.
These are just some of several cutting edge tools that farmers and ranchers use. There is even the promise in the not-too-distant future that drones will become an important part of raising cattle. In short, if it makes our cattle more comfortable or more efficient, we’re looking into creating it.