Having cattle data at your fingertips makes for better decisions, says producer

Tyler Fulton says a tool for inputing and accessing data on his smartphone has proven its worth

“It was really invaluable that immediately after it was updated, I’d have all that information at my fingertips.” – Tyler Fulton.
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Ever tweeted out a histogram?

Tyler Fulton has — and for the very practical reason that it showed at a glance the weight gain of his latest calf crop from birth to weaning.

“When we were marketing some steers in the fall, I actually got on Twitter and shared this information,” said the cow-calf producer from Birtle, Man.

A histogram looks like a bar chart but the bars show a distribution of data — in this case, how many steers gained an average of 2.91 pounds per day, how many gained 3.26 pounds daily, and so on.

It’s one of the tools offered by Google Sheets, a free app (for individual use) that Fulton began using last year. One feature of the program he likes is a tool that instantly generates graphs and charts.

“Nine times out of 10, it’s valuable and pertinent information,” Fulton said during a recent Beef Cattle Research Council webinar.

A histogram tweeted by Manitoba cattle producer Tyler Fulton showing average daily gain in a group of steers. photo: Twitter @ETFulton

But this type of electronic record-keeping also allows him to input — or retrieve — herd data on his smartphone when he’s in the field.

Previously, the farm used Excel spreadsheets. His parents are still involved in the operation and his father does a lot of calving this year, while his daughter recorded the calving data in Google Sheets.

“It was really invaluable that immediately after it was updated, I’d have all that information at my fingertips,” said Fulton who farms with his wife, Dorelle (a chartered accountant who has been instrumental in developing the farm’s record-keeping and analysis), and children Mae and Evan.

His herd is both VBP+ and European Union certified, which both require detailed record-keeping. For example, the VBP+ program requires producers to show that any animals treated are following strict withdrawal periods. For a producer who uses growth promotants for some cattle, but also have ones not given them (a strict requirement for EU certification), it’s critical to have accurate records.

And being able to update records while in the field is a simpler process, said Fulton.

“Previously, we were always using paper records to be able to record everything that we needed to,” he said. “Suddenly, it made a lot more sense to have it available on your phone.”

Fulton also uses data for choosing replacements, and has quick and easy access to his records when sorting animals. He uses data to make other decisions, such as evaluating paddocks.

“What we’re able to do is take average daily gains from each of the herds that go to the different pasture paddocks and compare them,” he said.

This gives some perspective on how well the pasture is doing and whether it needs renovating if it has low alfalfa and legume content. Fulton is able to determine the profitability of native grasses or seeded pastures, and he can also see how drought can impact average daily gains.

In the webinar, (available on the Beef Cattle Research Council YouTube page), Fulton walks viewers through his use of Google Sheets (which begins at the 28-minute mark).

About the author

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Reporter

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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