The average US cattle ranch is almost 450 acres in size and has around 300 head of cattle to care for. Some larger ranches may even have several thousand cattle! Even for those who aren’t great at math, the implications are clear: cattle ranchers have a lot to keep track of.
It may be even more than you think, however, as every member of a herd comes with its own mountain of data that needs to be saved, stored, and quickly referenced at a moment’s notice. It raises the question:
How do cattle ranchers keep track of everything?
The trickiest part of running any livestock operation is often reliably identifying every individual animal on the ranch. Different members of a herd have different needs and attributes. Some are in better health than others. Some are more productive. Some develop health conditions, requiring regular medical attention and close monitoring. Some are more fertile, making them better for breeding.
It’s important, then, to be able to tell each animal apart. There are several livestock ID methods in use today, but the most commonly used are custom cattle ear tags. These are small plastic or metal clips that are attached to the animal’s ear like an earring. The color of the tag and the numbers stamped on it can tell a rancher a lot of information at just a glance, even from a distance. More advanced tags can even be scanned into a computer, allowing the rancher to look up detailed records about the individual’s animal production, health, and transport history.
Other cattle ID methods include branding, tattooing, and notching (which involves cutting out small pieces of an animal’s excess ear cartilage).
Cattle Record Keeping
Being able to accurately identify individual animals makes cattle record keeping as a whole a lot easier. This is where the cattle ranchers become jugglers, with many different documents, facts, and figures to keep organized in order to run a successful livestock business.
Some of the most important information a cattle rancher has to keep track of include livestock weights, feed requirements, breeding and cull groups, medical histories, and more. These records are not only vital for enabling business owners to make the best decisions for their ranch, such as by estimating expected revenues and expenses, but also for helping the government to trace disease in the event of an animal-borne illness outbreak.
Today, most cattle ranchers use livestock management software to keep these kinds of records consolidated, orderly, and accurate. In conjunction with scannable ear tags, livestock management software helps to automate a large part of the record keeping process, while simultaneously creating a handy animal database that can be easily searched and edited as needed.