No matter what business you are in, record keeping is crucial to the success of any operation. Unfortunately, keeping good records is tedious and tends to be an unpopular task – especially for cattlemen.
With running a farm, keeping the cattle healthy and out of trouble, and making time for family, who has time to keep records? The fact of the matter is, everyone should make the time to keep records – or hire someone who can. Records can make or break an operation – they can tell you where you’re making money and where you aren’t.
They aren’t just for registered cattle producers – a good record keeping system benefits the commercial producer as well.
“In the computer age, every farm needs to at least keep basic data,” said Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. The most basic records kept by a commercial producer should include cow production records, birth dates, health treatments, weaning weights, yearling weights and sale prices. I would encourage commercial herds to feed some of their cattle to slaughter and record that data. Progressive commercial producers can use the carcass data when they market their next set of feeder calves or yearlings. Order buyers become more active in bidding if the auctioneer has some facts and figures about herd mates, feedlot and carcass results.
Keeping commercial herd records helps you see which cows are worth the cost of their upkeep over time – and the sooner you can track which females aren’t making the cut, the sooner you can remove the expense.
“Culling decisions are made easier if you have calving information that indicates she deserves to stay around another year,” said Cole. “It’s also helpful to have weaning performance when it is time to select bulls or semen form an AI catalog. Records can show if your past decisions have moved your herd forward backward or sideways.”
Record keeping is also crucial to the management of your calves. “The ability to examine the impact of calf health management practices is dependent on good records, including vaccination and medical records. Medical treatment records involve documenting dates, products and types of medical treatments administered to animals, number of animals treated, and the person who administered treatment. Ideally, records are also linked to a specific animal,” said Kellie Raper, agricultural economist with the Oklahoma State University Extension.
There are a couple of tools to consider investing time and money in to better your record keeping system and your data. “The most valuable item that will enhance record keeping is a scale. I contend that if you only have 25 to 50 cows a $1,500 to $2,000 scale will pay for itself and make your record keeping more meaningful,” suggested Cole. Once you have data, whether it is from your scale, your vet or your processor, you must have somewhere to keep it. The best place to store your information is in a computerized spreadsheet – these can be customized and formatted to fit any farm. Once you’ve taken the time to create a spreadsheet and input data, make sure your work is backed up in a safe place, such as an information-storing site like Dropbox or Google Drive. That way, your records can still be accessed from another device even if something happens to your primary computer.