Selecting cow/calf record keeping software: Choosing what works for you!
By: Jay Jenkins, UNL Extension Educator, Range Livestock Systems
Before you buy
Before you buy computer software to keep cow/calf production records, you first need to decide what information you need to keep. Make a checklist that includes the items that you need. Include not only the necessities, but also those things that while not necessary, would be nice.
What do you need?
There are many items to think about before you make your purchase:
• How many cows do you have? Some programs limit the number of cows, while others keep records on unlimited herd sizes.
• Do you wish to keep individual historical data on the cows’ previous calves? Most programs allow you to do this, but a few old programs only kept a running average of previous calves' performance.
• What data do you want to record?
• Make sure the program does not require data you do not collect. For example some programs require individual weaning weights, while many ranchers do not record individual weights.
• What reports do you want? There are as many different styles of reports as there is software available. Make sure the program you select will deliver what you need.
A couple of other things may not be obvious to people evaluating cow/calf recordkeeping software for the first time.:
• Can the program handle your cow identification scheme? Some programs require that the cows be numbered in a certain way. This may or may not be an issue for you.
• Is the program based on a calendar year? Some programs can be confusing in the way they handle the "production cycle." Since cows are bred for next year’s calf before this year's calf has been weaned, programs that are "production cycle" based, can become confusing if records are not kept up to date. Going back and entering past data into some programs can be confusing.
Locate potential choices
Once you have made a checklist of what you need and want from a software program, you are ready to find out what is available. There are many programs available. Any list that you make will soon be out of date. Collect information from as many companies as possible.
Evaluating the software
Once you have decided what you need, and what is available, it’s time to evaluate your choices. Before you waste much time evaluating a program you need to see if it does what you need.
Compare the specifications with your checklist. Call the company if you are unsure on certain capabilities. Don’t worry too much about the computer it takes to run the program. You will be much happier in the long run if you select the programs you would like to use, then buy a computer that will run what you need. Otherwise you may not be satisfied.
Comparing the programs’ specifications with your checklist is only the first step in software evaluation. You also need to consider ease of use, performance, support and price.
It is always wise to try it out before you make the final purchase.
Ease of use
There are differences between programs in ease of use. Just because two programs have similar specifications does not mean you will be equally satisfied with them both. Also, just because your neighbor likes a certain program does not mean that you will. Everyone has their own personal preferences. Choose a program that you like.
Here are some questions that you might ask yourself.
• Does the program have clear, consistent screens?
• Is it easy to enter data?
• How about editing data and correcting mistakes, is it easy and logical?
• What about help, is it actually helpful?
• Does the program outline make sense? A program that does not make sense to you can be extremely frustrating to use.
You need to assess the speed of entry. Most of your time with the program will be spent entering data. You need it to go quickly once you learn the program. Often what is easy to learn in the beginning can become tedious once you know the program well.
You also need to evaluate the speed of error correction and reentry.
How quickly and easily you can move from one part of the program to another is also important. This is most important in programs that require you to move back and forth often.
The speed of compiling reports can also vary significantly between software programs. The performance of your software often depends on your computer system hardware. Programs that are horribly slow on an older computer may be more than acceptable if you upgrade to a new computer.
Technical support from the company can be very important, especially if you are uncomfortable working with a computer. Different companies offer different levels of support. You need to determine the amount of support offered, and the cost of that support.
You also will need to check on the availability of the support. Support is not worth very much if it is not available when you need it. Check the office hours of the support staff.
Knowledgeable support is also important. Some companies support is worse than no support. Ask the company for names and phone numbers of people who use their program if support is very important to you.
Try it out!
If at all possible try the program before you buy it. You will be using the program for a long time. You need to be sure that it is indeed what you want.
Some companies have a working demo version that they sell or give away. Other companies have a money back trial period. Whichever way you choose, if you cannot try it for little or no cost, then do not buy it!
Remember, price is not everything! More important is that it does what you need, and is it easy to use. If you like it you will forget what it costs. If not, you will remember forever how little more it would have cost to buy what you needed!
Higher price also does not mean it is better. Buy what you need. If you do not need the features of a more comprehensive, expensive program, then do not buy it.
Here is a partial list of software available. This list is not complete; there are other, equally good programs available. An Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service publication is available that compares the features of several Cow-Calf Production Record Software programs. This publication can be found here.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center
State Spur 18D
P.O. Box 148
Clay Center, NE 68933
Chaps 2000 – (Available late 2014)
North Dakota State University
Dickinson Research Extension Center
1041 State Avenue
Dickinson, ND 58601
Phone: 701-483-2348 Ext. 105
THE Beef Cattle fIRM
University of Tennessee Extension
314 Morgan Hall
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-4518
Stock Herd Records
Farm Works Software
PO Box 250
6795 South SR1
Hamilton, IN 46742
Bowman Farm Systems, Inc.
P. O. Box 517
Cynthiana, KY 41031
3100 'O' Street, Suite 7
Lincoln, Nebraska, 68510
PO Box 2647
College Station, TX 77841
5411 Dishner Valley Road
Bristol, VA 24202