Ranch efficiency, Utilize technology in all forms
Torrington – Harrisburg, Neb. rancher Douglas Olsen spoke to attendees at the Nov. 23 Beef Production Convention in Torrington about how his family utilizes technology to improve their operation. He encouraged producers to evaluate all available forms of technology to determine which can be most beneficial on their operation.
“Technology is the practical application of knowledge. We will focus more on using our knowledge of tools, technology and systems within our industry,” explained Olsen of his topic.
“First is how we keep informed of the latest ideas and tools available for use – you can’t use an idea if you don’t know about it,” noted Olsen.
He listed Extension-hosted programs and other speaker-oriented events as good sources to learn new ideas. “Trade publications and magazines and the Internet are also good sources for ideas,” he added. “These are all good sources for ideas, but each idea may not be directly applicable to your operation. You may find something specific to a Pennsylvania operation that isn’t directly usable in Nebraska, but we may still be able to harvest tidbits from these broad ideas.”
He added that, on a more personal level, producers can ask questions and gain information from consultants, nutritionists and vets. He also encouraged learning from neighbors.
“There is no lack of information available to anyone today, and no excuse to be uninformed about any particular topic. However, we must critically evaluate this massive amount of data made available to use; just because we found it doesn’t make it credible,” said Olsen.
He suggested visiting with neighbors, Extension personnel, Natural Resources Conservation District offices and family members to determine if a particular technology-based idea is applicable to your operation.
“What value technology has to your operation depends on your goals. There is always technology available, and if it can help you achieve your goals, it is worth sorting through,” said Olsen.
He lists the implementation of GPS and autosteer tractors on his farm as one way his family has decreased overlapping of chemicals and fertilizer while improving stewardship and efficiency.
“We also use RFID tags, and currently put those in all calves at weaning. The initial reason we started using them was to add value to our market ready steers and to help capture data at the packing plant. But the main benefit we receive is chute-side data collection,” explained Olsen.
His family also recently installed a GrowSafe feeding system in their feedlot, where they feed their own cattle to finish and take in custom cattle. RFID tags are required to obtain individual feed data on animals with the GrowSafe system. The computerized system also provides a plethora of other data that can be sorted through and utilized in management decisions.
“My father has always used computers to benefit his business. With our current machines that can handle very complex programs we can run a report on most anything we want, so long as we have data in the database,” commented Olsen.
When genetically evaluating their cattle, the Olsens count EPDs as one of the most important forms of technology a producer can utilize. “We use EPDs in selecting both our AI and natural services,” he said.
The Olsens are also involved in the American Hereford Association’s National Reference Sire Program, where they breed a set number of cows to specific bulls and keep records on the calves from birth on. The records are used to increase EPD accuracy on Hereford bulls for a number of measurable traits.
“We enjoy and take pride in testing progeny, and are involved in research to find DNA markers for all measureable traits. We currently draw blood on all our National Sire Reference Sired steer calves to help with that research. Implementing the GrowSafe system has allowed us to take progeny testing to another level by collecting feed intake data on a group of progeny sired by an individual bull,” explained Olsen.
He added that not all forms of technology an operation tries will work. He lists pelvic measurements in heifers as one idea his family tried, and didn’t maintain. “It is very valuable data to have, but we weren’t using it for calving ease, which was our original reason for getting the measurement. We found we used other information sources to obtain that information on our heifers,” he said.
“We have used technology to improve our ability to handle our workload more efficiently and to reach a favorable end product as cost effectively as possible, while being advocates for our community, industry and environment.
“Each operation has individual needs, and must critically evaluate the appropriateness of any given form of technology. I can only tell you how we make our decisions when selecting what forms to implement, and how those decisions have impacted our operation.
“The evaluation of individual forms of technology is a critical part of the continued viability of operations and the whole ag industry in today’s market climate. In the next 20 years we will use technology and knowledge to achieve the goal of feeding the world, even with the expected population growth,” concluded Olsen.