Record Management Computer Database for Wyoming Cow-Calf Producers

Final Report for SW04-051

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $18,563.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Matching Federal Funds: $1,500.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $22,000.00
Region: Western
State: Wyoming
Principal Investigator:
Dallas Mount
University of Wyoming
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Project Information

Abstract:

Wyoming producers need an inexpensive, easy-to-understand, and highly flexible database to encourage record keeping and information use. A database available to all Wyoming producers through the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service (UW CES) would meet this need and bring with it the educational resources of the land-grant system.

The objective of developing a record management computer database for Wyoming cow-calf producers is to encourage record keeping, analysis of production and economic information, and integration of land-grant information to make economically sound and environmentally sustainable management decisions.

Project Objectives:

Producer knowledge: By placing UW CES in a role to answer technical questions regarding the database, relationships between producers and extension educators were fostered and many teachable opportunities created. This relationship and information integrated within the database resulted in producers adapting sustainable production practices endorsed by UW CES. Producers also underwent a process of self-discovery when entering and analyzing their ranch data leading them to make decisions positively affecting the profitability of their operations. Producers who implemented the database were able to generate annual performance records on their operations and improve their understanding of the main economic forces affecting the operation.

Information disseminated: Through cooperation with the UW CES Profitable and Sustainable Agriculture Systems Initiative Team, a web site was developed (http://wccrms.com) as an information hub for Wyoming beef producers on the database. This web site will house this database and supporting documents. Multiple training sessions for beef producers occurred. Statewide media developed general information articles that assisted in getting the word out about the database. Presentations have been made to professional associations and organizations to inform natural resource advisors on the benefits and function of the database.

Resources Impacted: The database proved very popular among cow-calf producers in Wyoming. Over 300 copies of the database were distributed to producers during the past two years. Of the 300 distributed a reasonable estimate of 15% of producers use the database to keep and manage herd records. This would mean the 45 ranches that were either not keeping and managing herd performance records are now doing so, or that this system is an improvement over their old system. Producers using livestock production records are able to make better informed management decisions and determine focus areas for management attention by benchmarking against know averages. This practice will improve the profitability of the producers using this tool and better position the operations to manage through challenging times.

Economic and quality of life impacts: A similar effort conducted by Texas A&M Cooperative Extension, in which producers are encouraged to keep records and make decisions based on these records, reported an average savings of $16,931 to each operation that implemented the program (McGrann and Richardson, 2003). Assuming 45 herds adopted the Wyoming Cow-Calf Record Management System and using the data collected by Texas A&M reporting an average increase in ranch income of $16,931 by using a herd record management system, we can assume an increase of $765,000 of net income across all 45 ranches.

Introduction:

Wyoming’s rural economy is heavily dependant upon the sustainability of cow-calf livestock producers who operate on an ever-narrowing margin of profit. By encouraging record keeping and use of this information to make economically sound management decisions small, family size cow-calf operations can continue to remain a viable asset to rural communities.
An increasing number of livestock producers are becoming comfortable with using computers for assisting in ranch management, record keeping and decision making. Several computer based livestock record management systems are available so why is another one needed? On several occasions, I as a Livestock Extension Educator, have assisted producers in trying to find a software package that would work for their operation. However, we found no program currently available that can meet the needs of western livestock operations and remain current in the quickly changing field of computer technology. Producers need a record management system that will remain current with computer technology and meet the unique needs of western livestock operations. Most importantly, creation and management of this database by a university would create an opportunity to integrate the educational material of the land-grant system directly with a tool livestock producers will be using to make day-to-day management decisions. This process would foster closer working relationships between Cooperative Extension personnel and producers, and demonstrate how adopting research-based management principles endorsed by the university, can be both profitable and environmentally sustainable.
Wyoming producers need an inexpensive, easy to understand, and highly flexible database to encourage record keeping and information use. A database available to all Wyoming producers through the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service (UW CES) would meet this need and bring with it the educational resources of the land-grant system.

The objective of developing a record management computer database for Wyoming cow-calf producers is to encourage record keeping, analysis of production and economic information, and integration of land-grant information to make economically sound and environmentally sustainable management decisions.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Jack Baker
  • Steven Paisley

Research

Materials and methods:

A web interactive database specifically designed to meet the needs of Wyoming cow-calf producers was constructed so that producers with minimal computer experience can successfully interact with the program. This program is a database for both production and basic economic data to assist the producer in making herd management decisions and also evaluate how these decisions affect the bottom line of the operation.
An advisory group consisting of one livestock producer, 2 UW CES faculty, and 2 Extension Educators was organized to advise on the development of the software. The UW CES Profitable and Sustainable Agriculture Systems Initiative Team also had input on the initial stages of the database development. Following the initial database development, the software was put through a trial run and debugging exercise by implementing the database on two Wyoming ranches throughout a typical production year. During this test, the producers using the database evaluated which data fields, evaluation criteria and capabilities of the software should be included in the final package. The database was then be piloted with a moderate number of producers allowing for further troubleshooting and fine tuning before making the program available on a state-wide basis.
The official launch of the database included of a series of training workshops offered throughout the state to familiarize producers with potential benefits and basics of using the program. Several trainings utilized facilities with several computers so producers gained hands-on experience and became comfortable in using the database. A series of train-the-trainer workshops was also be held throughout the state to familiarize local UW CES educators with the database so that they may serve as local contacts and a first line of troubleshooting for producers using the database. In a related project, a SARE PDP funded project allowed for a broad scale train-the-trainer workshop that reached several professionals from three organizations and two states to become familiar with the capabilities of the database.

Research results and discussion:
  • The producer/professional committee met several times during the initial years and the discussion shaped the nature of the database.
    The database was developed primarily during year 1 of the project with substancial input from Crile Carvey consulting, a database development firm.
    Troubleshoot and de-bugging occurred during year two on three ranches primarily, with one ranch inputting large number of cows and devoting substantial time and effort to the project.
    Roll out of the database occurred primarily in year three with the PI invited to several producer meetings to present the database as a management tool for producers.
    A web site was constructed (http://wccrms.com) to serve as a download and troubleshooting site for producers.
    Several hundred producers requested copies of the database during rollout phase and worked one-on-one with the PI.
    Small scale train-the-trainer workshops were held to familiarize extension professionals with the database.
    A SARE PDP project was funded allowing for a broad-scale train-the-trainer reaching several professionals from three organizations and two states.
Research conclusions:

The database proved very popular among cow-calf producers in Wyoming. Over 300 copies of the database were distributed to producers during the past two years. Of the 300 distributed a reasonable estimate of 15% of producers use the database to keep and manage herd records. This would mean the 45 ranches that were either not keeping and managing herd performance records are now doing so, or that this system is an improvement over their old system. Producers using livestock production records are able to make better informed management decisions and determine focus areas for management attention by benchmarking against know averages. This practice will improve the profitability of the producers using this tool and better position the operations to manage through challenging times.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Outreach:
A one hour sessions was presented on the Wyoming Cow-Calf Record Management System at the following workshops:
Laramie Peak Stockgrowers Summer Meeting 2006
Wyoming Stockgrowers Profitability Conference 2006
Sustainable Ranching Conference 2005
Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days 2006
WESTI Ag Days 2006
Southeast Wyoming Beef Production Convention 2006
High Plains Ranch Practicum School 2007
Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days 2007
Carbon County Stockgrowers 2007

Publications:
Southeast Wyoming Beef Production Convention Proceedings

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Managing livestock operations is a complex and dynamic job requiring producers to analyze and make decisions based upon large amounts of information that can become overwhelming. Having a system for collecting and interpreting herd performance data can give producers an advantage when it comes to identifying focus areas needing additional management attention. Assuming 45 herds adopted the Wyoming Cow-Calf Record Management System and using the data collected by Texas A&M reporting an average increase in ranch income of $16,931 by using a herd record management system, we can assume an increase of $765,000 of net income across all 45 ranches. Costs would be time to collect and input the information into the system, and possibly some computer costs although most ranchers now have personal computers capable of running the software.

Farmer Adoption

An estimated 45 producers in Wyoming adopted the WCCRMS. With an average of 3,780 acres and an average herd size of 130 head, the project would have affected 5,850 head of cows and 170,000 acres of land. Producers that have utilized this database or a similar herd performance analysis tool reported that they would recommend this as a management practice to other producers. As costs of producing calves rapidly increases, producers are looking for ways to reduce production expenses. A thorough analysis of production efficiencies using herd performance records is a vital component of any cost-cutting strategy.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

Production benchmarks for Wyoming and even for sub-regions in Wyoming, need to be developed so that producers measuring herd production have reference points from which to compare their herds. These can be developed by a university or other entity facilitating the sharing of production records by producers who are measuring them in a similar format.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.