Behind the seat of my pick-up truck are two torn and tattered, spiral-ring notebooks.
The pages of the oldest one are beginning to yellow from age, but that’s the least of their legibility problems when both are covered with mud, manure, dried afterbirth, and the effects of my own temper tantrums resulting from finding dead calves or simply the inability to get an ink pen to work on a ten-below morning in February. You see, these are my complete and precise calving records for the past 12 years. Yes, I still need to keep them because I still have some of the same cows around that are entered in the first book. And… the sale barn vet called her a six-year old back then.
In the pages of these old notebooks, I can find a description of every cow I’ve owned (this was long before I had numbered ear tags in the old girls); the birth date of their calf that year; the color and sex of that calf; whether there were problems such as breach birth, hard pull, weak, small, huge or dead; and finally, whether there were unusual weather circumstances (i.e.; found dead calf in two-foot drift — momma seems O.K.)
These immensely accurate and detailed calving records should enable a progressive cattleman to make fact-based management decisions affecting the profitability of the ranch. For me, however, they simply allow a bit of nostalgia in wondering why I’ve still got that eighteen year-old cow.
But, as misty-eyed as I get remembering the “curly-haired, red cow with three teats” that lost her bull calf on Feb. 12, 1999 because she “laid down slope in a wash-out and couldn’t get up to lick off and nurse the calf in time,” these crude notes are a thing of the past in my new electronic age.
Last summer, my wife decided that I needed to scrap my antiquated cell phone (it was only ten years old) and upgrade to one of these new “blackberry” gadgets. By January of this year, when I had finally learned how to use it as a phone, Judy began to show me how it could do everything my desktop computer could do. I could access the internet, send e-mails, take digital pictures, and even write my column wherever I might be and whenever I might want to. Why, I could even create a spreadsheet and keep my cattle records with me at all times without worrying about those cumbersome notebooks that were always in her way and always filthy.  “But what if I lose this gadget?” I argued.
She won the short argument with, “The only time you ever lost your last phone was when it dropped out of your pocket in the calf barn and you found it when I kept calling you as you retraced your steps.” She was right, and to this day, it is the only time I’ve heard a pile of manure ringing.  
I gave in and stepped into the “information age” kicking and screaming. According to my blackberry, the first calf of this season was a “smokey-colored bull that I tagged #19, born on Jan. 27, at the creek farm, to black-baldy #734. There were no problems, but it was cold and rainy that day. I didn’t have to worry about the ink pen not writing, or the rain getting the notebook wet, and that should be the end of a successful story about yet, another farmer taking advantage of another tool that technology has provided us. But…
Last week, as I recorded another birth at another farm, the new era of technology raised its ugly head and looked in my direction once more. On that terribly cold morning, I attempted to enter all the pertinent information on the tiny keyboard while keeping on the thick, insulated gloves that I had been wearing for two hours. As I slowly typed in all the information and scrolled to “save,” I must have mistakenly hit “delete” (they are side by side on the screen). I lost that entire farm’s calving records and now have only a vague idea of how many calves I should have and who belongs to whom. I bought a new notebook the next day along with a “space-age” ink pen guaranteed to write in any climatic conditions. Now, that’s my idea of technology we can use.
Jerry Crownover farms in Lawrence County. He is a former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University, and is an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to and click on 'Contact Us.'   


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