Deciding on a record-keeping system that works best for your operation is the first step. Whether you choose to use a basic system or data management software, the key is to select the system that works for you and how you plan to find the information you need to make management decisions.
If you prefer a pen and paper, a detailed calving book and a day-planner may be a good place to start. Perhaps you are familiar with spreadsheets and prefer entering information using an existing Excel template available through extension offices, or you may want to develop your own. Due to the differences in every operation there will never be a one-size-fits-all model available.
The following information provides some of the recommended methods and practices for record-keeping.
Starting with the basics of a pencil and paper is the simplest form of farm records. Paper records allow you to record additional information and notes along with the data that you want to keep. Paper records can also be very portable. From the barn or field any data or notes can then be transferred to a permanent record book, Excel sheet or software program. The key to paper records is to maintain this information in one location in an organized manner, not on a bunch of scrap papers that can be easily lost or damaged. Recording information in two locations, for example a pocket calving book and a record book in the house, makes sure you always have a back-up copy, but requires extra time. Organizing the data to compare production year to year and observing trends will take more time if the information is only available in paper format.
One way to get started with record-keeping is by keeping a daily farm journal where activities each day can be entered into a notebook. This will allow you to look back on the information as needed. For example, how many bales were baled on a particular day? How many calves were treated? How many cows were moved?
Calving Book or Herd Management Book
For many producers, information on birth dates, breeding information, and calf identification may be currently kept in a calving book. Many of the breed associations and other programs in Canada such as the Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program currently provide some type of management booklet. These are great resources that can assist you with the records you may want to keep; however, this may be more information than you need for your operation.
Spreadsheets (such as Excel, iWork Numbers, or Quattro Pro) can be a very useful tool when record-keeping. The columns and rows where data is entered can be customized to manage your information. Spreadsheets can also be useful to perform calculations (such as weight averages) for individuals, large groups, or even across years. If you are unfamiliar with Excel or need a refresher, there are several tutorials available online to help. The downside of a spreadsheet is that this data could be lost if not saved properly, but this can be mediated by saving with a back-up method such as a flash drive, an external hard drive or syncing to online storage options such as Google Drive, DropBox or iCloud.
The following presentations cover which records may be worth keeping and how some operations have implemented record keeping systems on their operations.
- Records for Animal Health and Performance – Kathy Larson
- Cow-calf operation example of records for Animal Health and Performance: Tyton Farms
- Using Data to Make Better Decisions – Dr. Jennifer Pearson
- How Box H Farm uses collected data
- Informed Decisions: Records for Selection and Culling – Kathy Larson
Record-Keeping Software Systems
If you enjoy technology and smart phones, perhaps you may consider an application (app), such as Herdly to keep track of calving, weaning, breeding, treatments, or pasture moves. Many systems have taken on-farm practicalities into consideration with recent updates. For example, many apps can now be used offline, without an internet connection, to collect information and then once re-connected, can upload to a cloud-based system.
Data management systems such as Go360bioTrack, Cattlemax, Herdtrax, and others have the capability to pull up individual animal info quickly, perform various herd performance calculations for you and can provide various types of reports including health treatment records and animal performance. One benefit with these systems is having access to tech support to provide assistance with troubleshooting. Some of them provide additional access to veterinary or nutritional technical advice. These services will often enter your data for you for an additional fee. These systems typically have an annual fee and may require an upgrade to your computer system or smart phone.
The following example operation uses record keeping software to manage their records.
Useful materials for record data collection
For basic record-keeping there is no need to purchase expensive equipment. For those new to record-keeping the following equipment may be helpful:
- Notebook or clipboard
- Binder with copies of empty record templates
- Calendar of the current year
- If desired, computer access with a spreadsheet program such as Excel and/or accounting software
- Production calendar
Information to Start With
Having a readily accessible list of important farm contact information can save you some time when filling out paperwork or in an emergency situation. The following are some examples of information you may want to consider keeping in one location such as a farm record binder or Excel sheet. This is a starting point and you may want to include other information in addition to the following:
- Bank and credit account numbers
- Breed association membership number
- Contact information for:
- feed mill
- extension experts
- Premises ID number(s): A premises is any parcel of land on which animals, plants or food are grown, kept, assembled or disposed of. Premises IDs can be acquired through your province. For more information: http://support.canadaid.ca/premises-faq/
- Legal land description: This varies according to province. Western provinces may have access to a grid network dividing the province into equal-sized square parcels of land, for purposes of administering legal land title. You can obtain your legal land description through your province through the Department of Agriculture or Natural Resources. Eastern provinces may use civic or lot numbers to identify pieces of land. These can be found through your local municipality office.
- CCIA CLTS number(s): When you first purchase a bag of tags, the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency (CCIA) provides producers with a Canadian Livestock Tracking System (CLTS) number. For a quick start on how to use the CLTS system: http://support.canadaid.ca/wp-content/uploads/Getting-Started-Quickstart-User-Guide.pdf
- Login information: Listing your usernames and passwords for online systems such as CCIA, breed associations, or others allows quick access for the record keeper on your operation.
This topic was last revised on March 23, 2023 at 7:47 am.