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					                                                                                                                                                                     MAY 2004 23




                                               LIVESTOCK
                                                                              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.

				
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