Decision-Driven Data for Cattle Management
Producers are using cattle management software data to help make better decisions before close-out.
For years, beef cattle producers calculated their profit or loss only after cattle were shipped out. Yet, once cattle are gone, the opportunity to make management changes that influence return-on-investment has left too.
Now, managers can make real-time decisions about feed ingredients, performance, inventory and more using cattle management software. These types of applications have long been a tool used by dairy operations, but beef producers now are realizing the benefits as well.
“The dairy industry has a daily output analysis. In the beef industry, we don’t necessarily have those daily measures,” said Dane Kuper, global Performance Beef platform and strategy lead, Zoetis. “It’s only when we get to the finish line that we get that output analysis. The real-time data management allows producers to make changes and find opportunities to improve performance along the way. We have to make this data actionable in real time so producers can see feed intake drops and address it.”
Kuper co-founded Performance Livestock Analytics, which was the first company to offer cloud-based data management to beef producers. Today, its Performance Beef solution combines cloud-based technology with automated on-farm data collection. The company was acquired by Zoetis in April 2020.
Tech for everyone
Currently, data collected varies among producers – and in how it is used. One of the main hurdles for adoption of management software may be skepticism about using technology in general, which is a fear Performance Livestock Analytics has helped alleviate.
“We’ve set up operations for producers who didn’t even have a smartphone,” Kuper said. “It frees producers up because they can see it happen whether they are on a beach in Mexico or on the operation helping feed too.”
Producers who have attempted to use data management software in the past may have abandoned efforts due to the time-consuming process of entering all the information – often more than once, in paper form then into the computer program. The ability to have mobile devices makes data input easy to perform in the pen or on the feed truck, said Jared Shriver, head of U.S. cattle, Zoetis.
“The largest cattle feeder customer has in-depth knowledge of everything that is going on. Then you may have producers that are only collecting a few data points,” Shriver noted. “Data collection is extremely important and what guides producers’ decisions. It (software) really brings all those data points into one location and makes it easy to access and implement.”
Focus on feed
The cost of gain is a valuable calculation for beef producers, but it can be difficult to track in real time.
“The focus is on the feed inventory, the feeding process to the cattle – how much feed is given, what those rations are, and animal health protocols,” Shriver said. “From there, you can calculate the cost of gain, and that’s one of the most important things producers need to determine to help with breakevens and how they are going to determine profitability. Once those cattle close out, it’s too late to change anything. The ability to make corrections is the biggest single benefit and helps improve the bottom line.”
Layering in the cost of pulls and treats changes the breakeven number substantially. Too often, animal health measures are stored in a paper folder, Kuper said.
“We can empower that producer with the software to see where their successes and inefficiencies or failures are,” he said. “The digital platform really does bring these data points together. At the end of the day, it’s still on the livestock operation to manage that and make it actionable.”
Implementing a cloud-based platform allows advisers to collaborate and reduce double-entry, Kuper said. For example, producers are able to work closely with a nutritionist, who is a trusted member of the decision-making team.
“They can share access with a nutritionist down to the ingredient list of the feedstuffs they are using,” he said. “The end result is a nice, simple list of inputs in the platform to automate the data flow process. Then, veterinarians, or your Zoetis representative, can have access to the platform.”
Collaborators to the platform include anyone – including distributors – that can adjust their products and services to better meet the operation’s challenges, Kuper said.
“A distributor is about more than delivering products to the farm gate,” he said. “They want producers to have success in using their product. It’s more about understanding the challenges on the farm and helping producers implement those products and services for the highest outcome.”
Oklahoma State University Extension recommends producers consider the following when choosing management software programs:
- Evaluate existing records to determine the types of information needed from a software program
- The level and cost of software support that will be provided by the company
- Program integrations with other software
Main photo credit: istockphoto.com/baranozdemir
2nd photo credit: istockphoto.com/georgeclerk