Extension Education: Smart phone interface facilitates record keeping, ranch management decisions
As producers across the country continue to become more technologically savvy, University of Wyoming Southeast Area Extension Educator Dallas Mount has developed a tool to help them keep track of their production records utilizing their smart phones.
“I had a producer approach me, and they have several people working on the ranch who all had smart phones,” says Mount. “He asked if there was a way he could use their smart phones to keep records.”
After Mount found that no existing smart phone applications provided an adequate platform for entering or sharing data, he began to seek other ways of data entry.
“We were using Google Docs for sharing applications, and I thought I may be able to use that,” he explains, noting that Google’s Drive platform provides options for producers to track ranch records from their smart phones.
“I built a spreadsheet application that can be accessed trough a smart phone,” Mount explains.
In its first trial year, Mount used his application for his calving season with his son last year.
“My son would enter all the records for our cattle, and if he updated it, I could see it on my desktop instantly,” he says. “The records are automatically updated.”
Because of the nature of the web-based application, Mount notes that it is ideal for operations where multiple people are entering records or working with animals who may not have the opportunity to share information face-to-face frequently.
Creating a custom
Mount’s tool was developed with the idea of teaching producers how to build a Google Drive spreadsheet to meet their individual record keeping needs.
“I didn’t build a turn-key application for people to use, but rather a set of videos for producers to go through and develop a tool to keep records,” he said.
The interface allows users to customize the data they choose to enter into the application.
“Producers can choose to utilize whatever fields they want,” Mount explains, “and the data is handled just like in Microsoft Excel.”
While the database isn’t difficult to create and utilize, Mount says, “This is not for the computer novice. If someone is really new to Excel or web-based applications, I wouldn’t recommend that this is their first experience.”
However, for those accustomed to working in Excel or utilizing internet banking applications, he notes that Google Drive is similar in its handling.
“My video series walks through step by step how to develop this spreadsheet on Google Drive, as well as how to build the interface on their smart phones,” Mount says.
Benefits of handheld record keeping
Utilizing a web-based system for record keeping has a number of benefits, says Mount, who adds that it can allow opportunities for improved management.
“I have developed templates for calf records, pasture records, animal health records and livestock inventories,” he explains. “Inventory, for example, is something people forget about, but it’s a hard number to get your hands on.”
Without easily accessible records, Mount comments that data isn’t always easy to locate or remember. When looking at unit cost of production, for example, Mount says that the information that is easy to calculate if records are tracked.
“Utilizing a system like this will also prevent the oh-my-gosh-I-washed-the-red-book syndrome,” says Mount. “Data in this system is automatically archived and backed up – there is no more losing data somewhere.”
Mount also notes that when records are readily available at the producers’ fingertips, they will likely be used more frequently to make management decisions.
“At the end of the day, the reason we collect data is to use it,” he says. “So often, though, it gets written down, put on the shelf and never used.”
Thus far, there are only a handful of producers using the system, but Mount expects that number to increase as people interested in effectively utilizing technology try the system.
“I’ve only really launched this application in December and January,” he adds. “I’m expecting it to start taking off. The hits on our YouTube videos are starting to increase.”
“I think a great time to try this program is right before calving season,” says Mount.
While the use of Google Drive isn’t yet perfect, Mount notes that Google is working to address issues.
“Right now, producers must have a good internet phone connection to utilize the system,” says Mount. “Essentially, the application fetches a webpage right now.”
However, Mount also notes that Google is working to develop an interface that is available offline.
“If someone doesn’t have a consistent internet signal for data entry, that would be an issue,” he explains. “Google is developing an offline syncing application so you can update offline and sync it as soon as signal is available.”
“Right now, it will work for ranches that have good cell phone signal,” he adds.
For producers interested in learning more, Mount says he would gladly teach a workshop if people are interested. Mount is also available by phone and email to answer questions for producers.
The Wyoming Private Grazing Lands Team supports this project.