Ranching; there's an app for that

News
Aug 23, 2013
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That little handheld computer you—or your neighbor, friend, child, or another colleague—carry around on a daily basis might be the single most powerful device on your property. Sure, a smartphone can’t dig holes, bail hay, or move cattle, but it can connect you with information and allow you to share information with others.

And what’s better, you can tailor a smartphone to your needs. From managing herd records, to sharing your ranching experience with the non-ag world, to tracking the body condition of your cows and beyond, there’s a way to make your smartphone work for your ranch. Regardless the need… there’s an app for that.

Apps—short for “applications”— are small pieces of software which function for smartphones and other mobile devices as large programs do for computers. They allow the phone to run certain processes. Apps can be anything from a game to a phone-sized version of a computer word processor, to a camera, to even a command function for other apps.

WLJ talked to some producers about how they use their smartphones and what apps help them around the ranch. While some had suggestions for specific apps, there was a consensus on the most valuable uses of smartphones to ranching.

Aside from the obvious connectivity side of smartphones—calling, texting, and “facetiming” with family, friends, colleagues and customers—using smartphones to take and send photos and keep documentation of details on the ranch were by far the most repeated uses cited.

Photos: Almost every producer reported using the camera feature of their smartphone for around-the-ranch activities. Judi Graff of Graff Land and Livestock and FARMnWIFE, an ag-blog which seeks to tell her story of agriculture and help others do the same, reported they use the smartphone cameras all around the ranch. Taking pictures of equipment or needed parts, taking pictures or videos of cattle to send to the vet, or taking pictures of the ranch’s activities for her blog are all common uses of the camera.

Attendees of the Colorado Wool Growers Association meeting recommended using the camera on smartphones to document pasture conditions or the state of public lands improvements. Some also stressed the value of taking pictures of dead livestock as evidence in situations of potential predator attack. Visually documenting damage to private property also is important.

Documentation: Though photos are of course one way to document important things, so to is textual documentation. Several responding producers commented on the importance of sharing ranch-relevant data with each other and how smartphones have helped them with that.

“I use GoogleDocs on my phone every single day,” said Debbie Lyons-Blythe of Blythe Angus. “I keep track of cattle treated and withdrawal times as well as when we visit each pasture to put out mineral.”

In speaking to WLJ—entertainingly while out on the tractor—she explained how she and her family have integrated the use of shared documents via GoogleDocs. She has created various activity forms which everyone on the ranch has a link to on their smartphone.

“Let’s just say my son goes out to the pasture and puts out mineral and treats cows. There are two forms he’ll go to.”

She said the forms make for consistency and the ability to share access with everyone from all over the ranch—coverage willing— keeps miscommunications and overlap to a minimum.

“This is a really awesome way for all of us to share information.”

Keeping up to date:

Several producers mentioned the use of smartphones as important tools for staying connected to information they value.

Things like commodity markets, accessing market reports on feeder sales, weather updates and crop yield maps were all mentioned as important uses of the smartphones.

Jerry Gustin of Gustin Land and Cattle said he uses a specific app—Angus Mobile, mentioned below—to keep records at his fingertips when marketing his cattle.

“I just have a small herd, but I can’t keep all the numbers in my head. Calving ease direct, yearling EPD and carcass values are just a couple fat finger punches away. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Apps

One of the handy things about smartphone apps is their omnipresence. As the all-too-popular phrase suggests, there really is an app for that, whatever “that” might be.

Here are some of the most frequently recommended apps by producers as well as interesting new apps that haven’t had much chance to gain a following:

Angus Mobile: This app, created by the American Angus Association (AAA), provides users with most all of the functions of the Association’s web site—news, sale books for upcoming sales, show and sale reports, and member and registered animal lookup—but the app also provides users with the ability to track their herd and individual animals, create a herd book, submit calving information to AAA and much more. This was without a doubt the most recommended smartphone app by producers who contacted WLJ.

This app is free on Google- Play for Android phones and the iTunes AppStore for iPhones.

ThermalAid: The University of Missouri recently introduced this 99-cent app which can help cattle producers avoid heat-related stress on cattle. The app receives temperature and humidity data from the weather service relative to the GPS location of the user and can calculate an animal’s Temperature Humidity Index, or the THI. A green-yellow-red readout after inputting some data about the animal indicates the likely heat stress level and suggests actions.

The app is available through the iTunes App- Store, but not on Google- Play. As mentioned, it costs 99 cents.

GeoCam:

This is one recommended by producers at the Colorado Wool Growers Association. Those who had it said it was invaluable to them when documenting range conditions, livestock carcasses and evidence of predators. The free app pairs with the phone’s built in camera and GPS features and provides location-specific information on photographs. Details such as compass direction, altitude, longitude and latitude, and other location information is included. What information shows up is able to be controlled by the user.

The app is on both the iTunes AppStore and GooglePlay. There are free and paid versions with differing levels of user control and options.

Facebook and/or Twitter: Though neither of these apps are ag-related on their face, many of those producers who contacted WLJ about their smartphone usage are ag bloggers and find these two social networking apps invaluable in their “agvocating.” Lyons-Blythe called the two apps her second and third most ag-relevant apps because of her blogging efforts. Her blog “Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch” targets city moms who are concerned about the food they feed their family. Staying connected to her readers with the at-hand communication offered by both apps and her smartphone helps form a closer relationship.

Karoline Rose of Rose Cattle Co. also placed Twitter in her top three most important apps. “I’m really into agvocating, so I use Twitter a lot.” She said that she prefers Twitter to Facebook because she feels the brevity of Twitter—which restricts tweets to 140 characters—lets her connect to more people more easily.

Both the Facebook and Twitter apps are free on both app stores, though most smartphones these days come preloaded with one or other of them given their popularity.

The vast availability of apps out there can be overwhelming if you are new to smartphones or haven’t investigated apps. Talk to a friend, neighbor, or colleague about what apps they use and find helpful in their work.

If you have a “can’t ranch without it!” app that wasn’t covered here, feel free to contact us at editorial@wlj. net and tell us about it. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor

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