Why do we keep records? According to Stan Parsons, founder of Ranch Management Consultants and Ranching for Profit, records are a waste of time. He believed that records tell you where you have been, a rear view of the business. An information system on the other hand, he believed, will keep you looking ahead and not behind.
Here are a couple examples to illustrate Stan’s position.
I remember being on a pasture walk and the guy running this outfit was expounding on all of the pedigrees of the cattle we were seeing and quoting weaning weights and all kind of production numbers. The question was asked about the cost of keeping a cow for a year and he looked at the questioner as if his family had been insulted. It did not take but a few minutes of listening to this old boy stammer and stutter to understand that he had no idea.
This little episode brought to mind something that I was involved in a few years back. I had been invited to speak to one of the parish cattleman groups in our area. I spoke after the guy from the lick block company that was paying for the meal that night. I listened to him talk about how much these blocks could improve the general well being of their cattle and just how cost effective they are. Well, this gave me an idea so when it came my turn to speak I started my presentation with a question.
“How many of you know how much it cost you to keep a cow on your place for a year?”
I asked for a show of hands and, for whatever the reason, not a hand was raised. But one guy sitting in the front row mumbled loud enough for me to hear, “I really don’t want to know that.”
Now I agree with Stan Parsons. If records are used to keep an account of what has happened and not used as a planning tool they are without question a waste of time.
Choosing What Information to Gather
For most of the years that we milked cows for a living we were on “test”. Once a month the person who weighted our milk for D.H.I.A. (Dairy Herd Improvement Association) came and from each cow’s production the milk was weighted and a sample taken for butterfat testing and other stuff that I don’t remember. (This was over 30 years ago so some of this stuff is hard to recall.) But I do remember how, after we put in a computer feeding system and put this information in the computer, our feed bill went down.
But, more important than the reduction in the feed bill, the feed that was fed was going to the cows that were producing the most milk. The simple fact was that the lower producing cows were being overfed and by using these records the feed was used where it was needed and not wasted where there was no return on the cost. In this case the production records had a direct effect on the production costs and gave us the information that we needed to improve our overall herd performance. The fact that we are not milking cows today had nothing whatsoever to do with our record keeping other than the fact that our records help us make the decision that needed to be made.
In 1997 we bought our first calves to be grazed on rye grass using Management-intensive Grazing. We had grazed calves on rye grass for years but not using M.I.G. and we wanted to really learn and understand how to use this system. We kept a lot of records but looking back maybe it was more an information system.
We wanted each calf to stand on its own merits. This would help us to learn the type of calf that would work in this system. To do that, we recorded the weight of each calf at purchase, recorded the stockyard tag number, and replaced this number with an ear tag number. (We intended to track each calf and knew that the stockyard tag would not last through the grazing season.) With the records we kept at the end of the grazing season, which was 150 days more or less, we had recorded the number of calves, the size of each paddock, number of days each paddock was grazed, the purchase weight as well as the selling weight of each calf, and the cost of the grass.
That’s a lot of numbers but it paid off. The first year that we sold rye grass calves on the video sale the 50 calves were whatever we could buy other than dairy calves. We made money on this set of calves. But the guy from the sales outfit said that if next year we made the group look more alike they could make more money. Wrong. The next year we attempted to put together a set of calves that looked better as a group. We kept the same records but in the end made less money and looking at our numbers the reason this was so was simply that the purchase price of these calves was higher. So we went back to buying the plainer calves and have never lost money on a set of calves since.
If you’ve been following along with our series on grazing planning, you’ll have noticed that Don is keeping records and managing to meet one of the goals he set for his business – making a profit to support the family. For more on how he changed management based on his information system and meeting his goals, check out this article he wrote:
Tracking the Right Information
None of us want or need to spend hours and days keeping records, but if we use records as a starting point for our planning then it may be possible to not be guilty of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting better results.
This does not need to be that complicated or time consuming. I heard a story about recording keeping a long time ago that is a good example of just how simple it can be. It seems there was an old man down in New Orleans who had become a millionaire in the produce business. The local television station did a program segment one night on this old man and the reporter said to the old man, “Sir, is it true that you that you have become a millionaire by buying and selling produce?”
“Yes,” was the reply.
The reporter hesitated for a second and said”, I don’t want to insult you with this next question, but is it true that you never learned to read or write?”
Again the reply was yes.
“If you never learned to read or write how in the world did you make all of this money?”
“Well,” the old man answered, “If I bought it for a dollar and sold it for two dollars I knew I wasn’t losing.”
Keep records that will help you be like that old man.
Stay tuned for more on good information systems coming this month.
Don’s 60 some years of experience inspired our Grazing 101 ebook. Its free to download. Just look for the form in the right hand column, fill it out and get your download link!
Great work Don and Kathy and all the OP family and mentors here. Thanks GW
Thanks for this great article!
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