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The era of productive information overload

The days of a few notes in a notebook appear to be long gone

A few short years ago after I had begun working for a fairly new feedlot, as old Sonny and I were working up a sweat pulling a stubborn Hereford calf with a bad cough, I made a mental note to somehow check if I had pulled this fellow before and if so, how many times, as he certainly looked familiar.

Usually we older pen checkers don’t worry too much or want to be bothered about numbers and statistics and such things, as we can be easily confused. We generally like to be left alone to do our thing and Sonny and I being of an ever-increasing age, had limited energy that needed to be conserved by not pulling cattle unnecessarily.

After the morning rounds, I stopped at the treatment barn to see if there was a way to answer my question about the Hereford steer. The girl at the office humoured me and with a few clicks of the computer mouse and taps of the keyboard, I was looking at some detailed spreadsheets and listings. A couple more clicks and the data of my Hereford steer appeared. She showed me a massive amount of information on said steer, starting with his CCIA number, followed by when he had arrived at the feedlot, how heavy he had been, what kind of feed he was on, his projected finished weight, his implant and vaccination history, when he had been treated last and what drugs he had received. The lists and pages seemed to go on and on. I knew the bare bones basics of livestock health systems but I couldn’t believe how much they had improved and how in-depth they now were.

As I put Sonny away for the day, I had to wonder about all this technology and what it really meant. Of course it was good to know the facts and the numbers of the livestock we raise and take care of, but is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? Brushing the dust and sweat from Sonny, I could hear some fellow pencheckers discussing the previous evening’s sports scores. Another couple stared at their cellphones and talked of an upcoming thunderstorm. One was texting or tweeting. As I opened the gate and slapped Sonny on the backside my pocket began to vibrate and I instinctively reached for my own cellphone. It was my wife informing me of her plans for the morning.

It used to be that if I wanted to know who won the hockey games last night, I would have to listen to the radio, or watch the sports news on television. If I needed to do some multiplication or division I would have to do it in my head, or if that failed bring out my pencil and notepad. My wife would have to tell me her plans when we talked in the morning, or I just may not know them at all. Sometimes I felt that this age of technology and instant access and knowledge came at the cost of actual communication and interaction, but maybe that’s just me being stubborn and set in my old ways.

But how does this apply to the modern feedlot? Is there a point where we lose the physical connection to the pens of feeder and finished animals and the calves and the grassers and all we go by are the numbers on the computer screen? Technology has given us such unbelievable almost magical tools to be efficient, productive and exact. Surely there is a balance to be found in actual daily physical down-in-the-dirt interaction with the cattle using our own eyes and brains plus making good use of the numbers, calculations and statistics? Why would we want to waste these opportunities?

As I left that day, I passed by a group of grass cattle along the roadway and noticed one that was limping. I could see the bright numbered ear tag he wore and instinctively reached for my notebook to mark his information down. After writing it, I stopped. Maybe I should just have the helpful barn staff look him up for me in the computer come morning. I’m sure with the proper numbers, information and statistics we should be able to get him all fixed up.

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