There is always someone wanting to sell you something whether you farm or ranch or just happen to be a member of society. While every technology is not a fit for every operation, there are some technologies that are probably worth looking at from the perspective of a beef cattle operation. These technologies are many and varied and the list is certainly not comprehensive, but some of the things that make our list may surprise you.
A NUTRITIONIST AND CUSTOM MINERAL PROGRAM
A nutritionist is not a technology, but they are a technologist and they can help you to use technologies such as feed and water testing and can give advice that increases productivity. In many cases this investment will actually reduce your costs. A mineral program that is balanced to the available nutrients in the feed and contains the appropriate supplemental vitamins can greatly enhance pregnancy rates, calf vigour and growth. In many cases, purchasing a custom mix in bulk is the same or lower cost than buying bags of mineral off the shelf. They can also help prevent over/underfeeding and other potential nutrition related problems.
I appreciate many producers are already using accounting software, but many are not. While paper based systems work well for tax purposes and the entries have to be kept up in any system in order for it to be useful, the advantage of software is that you can compare rapidly across years, make detailed projections, obtain instantaneous reporting and save time and labour. How much did you spend repairing that old tractor? What about last year? What is your monthly cash flow? What was your return to assets? These are all the types of things that can be rapidly answered using accounting software.
Global positioning is a pretty obvious technology for those that are mixed farming, but it can also be very useful for operations that are strictly cattle operations with limited farming going on. A handheld GPS is a good way to identify monitoring sites on pastures, and with low cost GPS software and some air photos it is possible to do a lot of highly accurate planning, including fence building.
GENETIC SELECTION TOOLS
EPD are the most accurate way to select herdsires, and herdsires represent over 80 per cent of the potential genetic improvement for most commercial operations that retain their own heifers. EPD describe relative differences between sires within a breed for traits of interest such as calving ease, growth rate, daughter’s milking ability and carcass traits. When used in the context of a plan (not neccessarily the biggest/fastest/ strongest) they are the most accurate way to make progress in a cowherd using young herdsires. They are up to nine times more effective than looking at the individual animal’s performance, or in herd index. In many cases your bull supplier can assist you in interpreting these values and ensuring you get the right bull(s).
Another tool that may fall into this category is AI. The use of artificial insemination is growing in the commercial industry, partly through the advent of new and effective timed breeding technologies, and also now the commercial offering of sexed semen may make AI something to consider.
This includes electric fence, but also includes concepts such as swath grazing, bale grazing, corn grazing, crop aftermath management, movement of minerals, pumping water, etc. All of these things are designed to improve animal health and land health and can result in big low cost improvements to the land base and your productivity. Grazing is one of the very most effective and fastest ways to drive down cost and labour on a cattle operation.
Many people still sell cattle by season, radio or coffee shop reports. It is very worthwhile to invest in a proper market report such as Canfax, Beeflink, Canadian Cattle Buyer or many of the others available. Simply being aware of prices outside of your traditional marketing window can often let you take advantage of opportunities and make a huge impact on your farm’s bottom line.
DNA technologies are still somewhat on the horizon for many operations, but they are a technology that is receiving huge investment and is rapidly changing. Possible uses for DNA might include sire verifying replacement heifers, or offering DNA tested feeder cattle packages. Keep your eye out for stories and offerings around DNA based technology.
I use the term gadgets loosely, but basically this includes things such as cell phones, digital cameras and RFID readers. A cell phone can serve a variety of uses such as personal safety, coordination of people, etc. A digital camera can also be extremely useful for a variety of farm management tasks. This could include range monitoring, determining the identity of weeds, investigating veterinary symptoms of an animal, marketing your farm or simply recording life. Gadgets for the sake of gadgets are a waste of time and money, but when well placed they can be a valuable asset.
A veterinarian is a technologist too, and I believe their greatest value is in helping you to avoid problems. Whether you range from organic to conventional production a veterinarian and the array of animal health technologies are worth investigating. They can serve a key advisory role in animal health, biosecurity protocols, and also provide a doorway into programs such as verified beef production or the many vaccination programs.
These are a few of the things that make our list. We have found that a lot of old technology is new again as we continue our ranching operation. I am interested to hear what others are using in their operations to improve their lifestyle and their bottom line.