MAY 2004 23
Ohio’s Country Journal
Handheld computers can help cattle producers collect herd data
BY KYLE SHARP years, particularly with the national ani- up menu rather than having to
Marwood Hallett, a Mt. Vernon mal identification program coming up, write in everything. The flexi-
cow/calf producer and secretary of the and as new technology came along, we ble program can be converted
Knox County Cattlemen’s Association, realized we could use handheld technolo- to an Excel spreadsheet, can
has been involved with cattle all his gy versus our original plan of using lap- also run on desktop computers
life. Looking to take advantage of the tops,” he said. and is easily adjustable to fit
latest technology on his farm, he began The discussions among the county the needs of any type of cattle
using a Palm Pilot personal digital Extension advisory committee initially operation.
assistant (PDA), a small handheld com- focused on how country-of-origin label- Hallett also liked the scan-
puter, about five years ago to help man- ing (COOL) and the national ID program ner that could be attached to
age his animals. could impact local producers, said Jeff the Palm to read EID tags.
“I’ve used mine for memos,” Hallett McCutcheon, Knox County Extension “Imagination is the only
said. “I have a memo on each cow/calf agriculture and natural resources agent. It limit to how these devices can
pair I own that includes information such soon progressed into how information be used,” he said.
as the cow number, when it was bought, needed for these programs could be That sentiment was echoed
weight, when it calved, what the calf made useful to producers beyond their by Dale Blasi of Kansas State
looked like, etc. I just wrote it all down.” regulatory requirements. University, who served as the
About three years ago, he began keep- “It changed to how can these be a ben- program’s trainer.
ing a vaccination history for each animal efit to us rather than a cost, and learning “This is a mobile way of col-
on his PDA, including when the animal to use a handheld to collect and manage lecting information,” Blasi said.
was vaccinated, what the medication herd data seemed to be the easiest entry “You can take paper records, but
was, dosage, etc. And with the Palm in step,” McCutcheon said. “Initially we at the end of the day, they’re
his shirt pocket, the information was easi- talked about collecting data on laptops, pretty static. They’re still just
ly accessible whenever he needed it. but local cattlemen may not have electric- on paper.”
As Hallett upgraded to newer PDAs, ity in their facility or may not feel com- Digital information can be
he was pleased to learn the information fortable having a laptop chuteside, so we manipulated in an almost end-
collected on his Palm could be transferred started looking at handhelds.” less variety of ways, he said.
to documents created on his desktop The outcome of the committee’s dis- For example, a producer could
computer. So, he created an Excel spread- cussions was a two-day “Handheld Data keep track of the type of trailer
sheet with various information categories Management for Beef Cattle” training ses- used to transport cattle, or the
that he could download information to sion held April 5-6 in Mt. Vernon at the different truck drivers doing
from his PDA and make calculations. Knox County 4-H Center. Fifty-one peo- the transporting, compare that
“Technology improvements allow me ple attended, the maximum number to the quality of cattle after
to do things with the Palm easier all the space would allow. The fee for the pro- transport, and see if driver or
time,” he said. gram was $150, which included a new trailer type makes a difference Marwood Hallett, Mt. Vernon, has been using a
handheld personal digital assistant on his cattle
Hallett saw firsthand how the PDA Palm Tungsten T2 Handheld Computer in cattle quality. Perhaps a operation for the past five years. The device helps
was beneficial in collecting and managing for each participant to take home. driver is too reckless and him manage information.
herd data, and as a member of his county “Only a few participants had experi- stresses the cattle, or the sus-
Extension advisory committee he thought ence with a Palm, so we started from the pension in a particular trailer
other producers could benefit from the ground up,” McCutcheon said. “The could be bad causing the animals to have Lahmers said. “I think everybody will
technology as well. whole first day was spent getting acclimat- a rougher ride. walk out of here with the ability to be a
“We’d been talking about doing more ed to the device, the software and how it With a PDA, producers can do quick better manager because of what they’ve
training on how computers could be used can be applied. We had 50 different people calculations at the chute, Blasi said. They heard and seen.”
to collect herd data for the past several with 50 different levels of computer skills, also can use the devices as a reference,
but despite that, it went pretty well. storing “how to” forms that can be refer-
Obviously it takes longer the first time to enced while doing certain functions in
use the handheld, but as you get the bugs the field. Some PDAs have the ability to
worked out it gets faster every time.” take digital photos, and the pictures
McCutcheon believes there are many could help with documentation.
different things producers can use a PDA Other handheld software discussed
for, including calving information, health during the session included HerdData
records, and feed and efficiency records. and Chuteside, a cattle-specific program
It depends on how much detail a produc- developed for use with HanDBase.
er wants, but they can start by taking “These devices may not be perfect, but
basic animal inventory information and they represent one way of bringing data
adjusting from there, he said. into a person’s record-keeping system
“I hate raw data entry, for example without the lag time of entering stuff by
taking scale weights and then having to hand. We’re going to have more records
enter them all into the computer later,” to deal with, and we need digital access
McCutcheon said. “This can remove that to be more accurate and make things
step, because you collect the weight at the flow,” Blasi said. “I applaud the folks
chute and enter it directly into your here in Ohio for what they’re doing.
handheld, then you can transfer it auto- They’re very forward thinking.”
matically to your computer.” Like anything that’s new, it will take
Hallett attended the session and was some time for producers to get accus-
particularly happy with the mobile data- tomed to using the handheld technolo-
base program, called HanDBase, intro- gy, said Justin Lahmers, Ohio
Garson Spencer, left, Lucasville, and Gary
duced to participants. The program Cattlemen’s Association, who also par-
Eichorn, Mansfield, work together to learn
makes data collection a lot easier because ticipated in the training. how to use their new Palm Tungsten T2
Kansas State University’s Dale Blasi users can set up pop-up menus for differ- “If we’re going to have an ID system, Handheld Computers, received as part of
instructs participants during the “Handheld ent categories. So when collecting data on there are some things as an industry we the Knox County training session’s regis-
Data Management for Beef Cattle” training the PDA, all users have to do is tap the can do to take advantage of data collec- tration fee. The two work as farm coordina-
session, April 5-6. screen and select an item from the pop- tion from a management standpoint,” tors for the Ohio’s prison farm system.