The Southwest Booster
Managing records on your farm helps with decision making
Good record keeping is the basis for making informed production decisions. Having good records is also one of the first steps to qualifying for third party verification programs, such as Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+). Even with these benefits, not all producers keep formal records or use the information. The key to achieving results with record keeping lies in benchmarking and goal setting. Record keeping is the start, but records should be reviewed and analyzed to optimize productivity. This presents an opportunity to improve how you manage the livestock on your operation.
One of the key benefits of record keeping is the potential to improve profitability. Recent studies suggest that producers who keep records and use industry benchmarks (such as weaning weight as a percentage of body weight) have higher production, resulting in 60 pounds more of calf weaned per cow exposed. At an average price of $160/cwt, this would be an extra $9,600 for a herd of 100 cows.
Arguably, the measuring part of record keeping is easier than evaluating the information collected. With time being a limiting factor on most operations, it isn’t surprising that setting goals based on data may fall by the wayside. If you’ve never considered benchmarking using your records or setting specific production goals, you aren’t alone. A recent record keeping study from the University of Saskatchewan found that 70 per cent of producers kept records on their conception rates but only 40 per cent of those producers compared their rate to their goal or industry benchmark.
Goals should be specific to each operation, but there are some overarching themes that can serve as a starting place. Themes may include increasing your production, reducing your cost of production, improving your reproduction performance or even a management change. You’ll then need to keep these goals in mind as you make decisions throughout the year(s). Of course, some factors like weather are out of your control, but it’s important to persevere and continue to measure the results and evaluate.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to record keeping, but there are several options. While paper is a tried-and-true method, it’s likely the hardest to sort quickly, and you won’t be able to generate different reports without doing some maneuvering. However, it is the most cost-effective method in terms of initial setup fees. An Excel spreadsheet is another low-cost option. A Microsoft Office subscription costs under $200 for the year, with several pricing options depending on how many users need access. Within Excel, data can be manipulated and sorted with ease, though learning the most effective ways to do this may take some time and practice. The bonus to this method is that once you’ve got your templates figured out, you can recycle them yearly. Software programs come with an increased cost but can generate reports quickly and store multiple years of data in one program. The drawback with software programs is that starting can be daunting, especially if you have several years of data that you’d like to enter when you start.
Whatever method you choose, remember that record keeping will always be a work in progress. Start small and build your base from there. If you’re new to record keeping, reach out to others who have experience; they can provide their experience along with suggestions for things they would have done differently. For more information on record keeping or other livestock related topics, contact your local regional livestock and feed extension specialist, or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-4572377.