Moo-bile Apps Pocket Technology

By: Loretta Sorensen

The sound of bawling calves and calls of nervous mother cows at calving time quickly pushes record-keeping ideas to the back of a producer’s mind. But detailed notes about body score, teat and udder conditions and other physical aspects of individual animals can provide valuable assistance both at weaning and prior to the next breeding season.

Snapping photos of cows and new calves allows producers to compare animals to guidelines such as the Beef Improvement Federation’s (BIF) scoring system. And there’s an app – in fact there’s more than one app – for that!

“NUBeef-BCS and NUBeef-UTS are available in the Google Play and Apple App Store,” Rick Rasby, University of Lincoln Extension beef specialist, says. “The teat and udder scoring app is based on the BIF scoring system so producers can score cows against the BIF standard. The body condition scoring app allows producers to visually assess cows using a system that objectively describes each animal’s body condition or fat reserve.”

Each of the two apps has three components: photo samples used for comparisons, written material describing BCS and UTS conditions and an educational element producers can access to learn more about BCS and UTS.

“By weaning time, it’s easy to forget which cows had teat and udder problems at calving,” Rasby says. “Using photos taken at calving time helps develop culling strategies, improve herd conformation and avoid starting the day by milking out cows during the next calving season.”

Photographic records also give producers an opportunity to review their assessment with partners or hired hands.

“Assessment information gained through these apps can help in modifying nutrition programs and grazing strategies,” Rasby says. “With employees, reviewing photos together greatly aids communication and gets everyone on the same page.”

A forthcoming app still under development will aid producers in estimating an economic cost for replacement heifers. Jay Yates, Extension Economist – Risk Management at Texas A&M, is involved with the app’s creation.

“The app works like a spreadsheet,” Yates says. “In the past, our office developed spreadsheets for different purposes, but getting them to the people who needed to use them was sometimes challenging. With apps, as long as beef producers know about them, they can access them very easily.”

Yates believes the future of Extension lies in app development and use. The educational component of the applications makes it easier for Extension Educators to provide beef producers with needed information and easily deliver it to a large number of users.

Thousands of applications are available or under development. Finding those that are most effective for beef producers may take time.

 “Typically it takes about $10,000 to get an app to market,” Yates says. “More sophisticated apps may cost closer to $100,000. As programming processes advance, that will improve. We found it took four times longer than expected to complete our application and cost twice as much as we projected.”

Some emerging applications are tied to GPS technology and the company developing the app. Others are tied to an organizational membership.

“Right now, livestock app developers are tossing out a lot of applications and hoping something will stick,” Stan Bevers, Extension Agricultural Economist at Texas A&M says. “In large part, young people in ag are using livestock apps. Social media is second nature to them, so they’re likely the ones who are going to find the application that becomes the next big rage.”

Increasing use of tablets like iPad and notebook computers is likely to advance livestock application development as more users will be seeking the types of information and tools they can access on their devices.

“When livestock producers consider using an app, I encourage them to select one through iTunes or Google because they’ll automatically receive updates,” Bevers says. “If an app is downloaded from a website, there’s a chance it will stop working at some point in the future if updates aren’t completed.”

Bevers also notes that users sometimes find innovative ways to use applications that were developed for a different purpose.

“I know a guy who uses Evernote to document goat production,” Bevers says. “The app isn’t specifically tied to ag but it does everything he needs to maintain his files. We’ll continue seeing more livestock apps.”

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