Know Your Numbers & Use the Data
Are you a hobby farmer or a profitable farmer? This could be a trick question because you may be putting a lot of time into your operation but still have an off the farm job. I'm talking about knowing what your farm is producing and what it's capable of producing. You know where your time is invested the most and how much return you are getting for your time (and money) in that area. There are a lot of farmers who have it all in their head - number of animals, pounds of feed, bushels of grain, etc. - and that may work for them but it didn't work for us.
In fact, my husband and I with the help of a Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education (SARE Grant) made the switch to a digital record keeping system and software for our sheep operation. We did this for two reasons:
We kept records in the past on paper but our flock is growing and keeping the loose papers, notebooks and napkins straight was getting difficult. Then add the time to go back through all the info to make management decisions. The days of sunshine were slipping away as I sat in the office shuffling papers.
There is some evidence that many livestock species are making the way toward electronic identification (EID) and they aren’t turning back. We wanted to be on the front of that curve, not the back.
Now, I keep 98% of our record keeping on a small computer about twice the size of your phone. When I don’t have the recorder with me, I keep a note on my actual phone and transfer it to the recorder when I get the chance. There are three key reasons I think it is beneficial to make the switch to a digital record keeping system with EID tags.
First, the software will do the work for you. When you enter information onto the recorder it automatcally saves the information, once I get back to the house I download the information into the software system on the computer and it updates each ewes "file". From there I can sort all the information/data in thousands of different ways with the click of a few buttons. For example, when I am getting ready to select ewe lamb replacements I want to know which lambs come from my most productive ewes to decide your replacements. Not enough to just have twins. Does she have twins and high weaning weights? Those are lambs I want to keep.
Second, the data doesn’t lie. If my favorite ewe isn’t doing well, she’s got to go; it's really hard to argue with the numbers. Apart of being profitable (which is what every farmer wants to be - this is a business) is not putting your time, energy and money into something that isn't working for you too. Stop keeping ewes that are cute and your favorite but are under performing based on your requirements for the rest of your animals. One of the very first ewes we ever bought when we were first getting into sheep we named Waddles. She was the sweetest. Always coming up to visit for just a minute then moseying on her way back to the flock. In the beginning she also was the most productive ewe we had, consistently raising healthy twins. The last lambing before we got our Shearwell Stock Recorder she had a single lamb. Then after we had our stock recorder she came up open (not pregnant) during the ultrasound and in my gut I knew that it was time for her to go. But I didn't want to! It really took Levi, looking over the data and showing me how she was doing in comparison to our other ewes. She was falling behind and it was time for her to go.
Lastly, we only get so many day time hours. We have consistently been able to do our management jobs in a less than half the time it took to record the same information by handwriting. The big one that comes to mind is at lambing. During lambing (especially lambing in 2021) I’m already tired just from the nature of lambing with early morning and late night checks before I squeeze in a few hours in the middle. Add two toddlers into the mix and I am whooped. Recording lambs with the stock recorder is so fast and gets me more time to look over the barn and catch any issues early. The extra time savings on sheep records has been put into catching up on all the other things on the list. Improving our hay qualilty, being more consistent with our mineral program, getting into the pastures and spraying invasive weeds the sheep don't eat and the always lovely but never ending job of building/fixing fence. Since we've had the record keeping system these and others have all gotten more attention than before.
The list could go on and on with the benefits of a digital record keeping system.
It is a big financial investment and it takes time to learn a new system and how you can fit the new into the old. But for us, on our farm, the switch has been more than worth it. The time savings alone is worth it to me.
If you’re on the fence about whether or not to make the switch to a digital record keeping system, I would highly encourage it. It’s going to help you do the work, let you make better, more sound management decisions and save you a ton of time. That’s worth the investment if you ask me.
Check out our Youtube Channel, there are a bunch of videos of me using the recorder during lambing and other sheep jobs throughout the year.