Organize that paper trail


By Gilda V. Bryant for Progressive Cattleman – original article

Today’s seedstock producers face the daunting task of organizing massive amounts of data from veterinary records, animal marketing reports, as well as collection and sales of semen and embryos.

While many purebred producers utilize spreadsheets and custom-designed computer software, this approach may not work for breeders with small herds.

Craig Bieber runs Bieber Red Angus Ranch near Leola, South Dakota. Lorenzo Lasater raises Isa Beefmaster cattle outside San Angelo, Texas. Jonathan Perry, general manager of Deer Valley Farm, raises Angus cattle near Fayetteville, Tennessee.

These producers share the filing systems that work for them, the various paperwork challenges they have faced and advice for other producers.

Q. How do you keep veterinary health records, sales and other information organized?

Bieber: We think electronically is the best way. We scan everything but keep and file all papers. We store files on the computer using eartag numbers by year and by sale. All of our breeding soundness exams (BSE) are in an electronic spreadsheet. Our vet sends health papers electronically.

We use Midwest MicroSystems Herd Management software to maintain a record of all customer purchases, referenced by lot number and ID. Our calving records are written in a Red Angus book and updated electronically once a week, while treatments, treatment codes, weights and dates are put into our software.

Lasater: Spreadsheets work great because I can design them exactly as I want. My spreadsheet has 35 data points, such as expected progeny differences (EPDs), sonograms, pedigrees, birth and weaning weights. The laborious part is when I pregnancy test, and groups of cattle are split and sold; it’s a manual process to update those. Each herd is broken down by age like first-calf heifers, yearling heifers, mature cows or groups of sales cattle.

Perry: Keeping track of papers is an ongoing challenge. We keep good field notes at the chute, and we have a filing system in our office. Every bull has a folder with his semen certificate, BSE and trich (trichomoniasis) test; we track that with electronic identification (EID) tags.

We have ID-driven field notes that correlate to an EID tag. The computer has the EID system, and we have a hard filing system in the office that houses the same information. Our veterinarian sends trich, BSE and other information in spreadsheet format.

Q. What filing system hasn’t worked for your operation?

Bieber: Because of our size, trying to chase a bunch of papers is impossible. We needed to move to a quick-search electronic system. We still file all health papers, but we don’t look at them very often.

Lasater: I’m trying CattleMax software this year, but I can’t let go of the spreadsheets because there’s more information on them than I get out of CattleMax at this stage. I’m using this new program to build a historical record of individual animals’ sale dates and their veterinary records. It does a good job of listing bulls the females were bred to five years ago, when they were sold three years ago or who their calf was in 2013. It’s a true database function. I’m trying to digitize all that with modest success.

Perry: We try to send paperwork from the office to the chute. We rely on the field staff maintaining records there. The form doesn’t matter, as long as data arrives at the office. Information can be on a cardboard box, a flap from an eartag bag or on the legs of my crew members’ coveralls.

Q. What is your worst paper trail nightmare?

Bieber: In the beginning, we had to weigh a couple of sets of cattle twice because we didn’t know or understand how to properly save information. That’s not a problem anymore. At the time, we should have kept more of a paper trail until we became comfortable saving data.

Lasater: We sell semen and embryos internationally. They are collected on different levels, like domestic, the EU or Australia certifications, or the CSF (cooled, sex-sorted, frozen thawed), which producers in other countries use. The inventory is hard to keep up with because it adds a bull as semen is collected or an embryo that qualifies at different levels depending on the test I’m investing in. Then, I sell 10, 15 or 20 at a time. I had four manila folders just to manage semen and embryo inventory and collection. Sapi LLC created a custom online software solution for my semen and embryo management. It organizes data all in one place and is an efficient solution for my record-keeping nightmare.

Perry: There are cases when papers are thrown on the pickup dash or the Gator and don’t make it back to the office. My crew will tell you I’m the worst recordkeeper. My right-hand man asks for my papers before I leave. Our vet keeps separate records we can request if needed.

Q. What advice do you have for other seedstock producers?

Bieber: Don’t get behind. If you get a mountain of information you don’t file, enter or scan, it takes forever to catch up. Make sure you have a good electronic backup off-site. We backup nightly and then backup totally every Sunday night. We remove the tape to an off-site location so if there were ever a fire or catastrophe, we’d still have records. I’m not sure a breeder with 100 or fewer cattle should invest in software. Be on the leading edge, not the bleeding edge.

Lasater: Organization is a struggle for everybody, but it’s partly a matter of scale. If you’ve got 20 cows, you have 20 certificates in a folder and notes on their yearly performance. It’s simple to keep track. If you have 200 or more, it’s more complicated, but software and apps are getting easier to use. As you have more domestic and complicated international sales, it takes additional recordkeeping.

Perry: Filing data is imperative. At the end of the day, without records and data, all we have are commercial cattle. If we don’t do our jobs keeping those records and data, there’s no way we can ever realize all the benefits of purebred cattle and see a benefit in price when we sell them. As we go forward, records are going to be more important than they’ve ever been. If you’re not willing to go to the trouble to take the extra step to organize data, then you won’t survive in the purebred business.


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