Creating an Information System to Get You Where You’re Going

Something funny happened at On Pasture in April. Three OP authors all wrote articles on the same topic without checking in with me or each other first. each article was about some version of record keeping as part of being a successful grazier. That’s why this month we’re focusing on record keeping – or better – an information to gather to help you get where you want to go.

When I wrote John Marble to tell him about this month’s focus he wrote back with another thought on the topic:

Just this morning… I set out to write an essay more or less arguing completely against all of the data collection suggested, and horror of horrors, even casting aside the venerated grazing charts we all love.

“Maybe late some night I’ll get back to that and explain why we not only do not need to weigh, tag, describe, and record our calves, we really don’t need to write down much of anything when it comes to ranching.

“But of course, we would have to pay attention. 😀”

“But of course, we would have to pay attention.”

That last sentence – well that’s the thing. How do we pay attention? And to what and why? And how do we keep track of what we’re paying attention to?

There are all kinds of data we can collect. But it has to help us meet our goals. So, this month, we’re going to show you the difference between data collection and an information system that helps you figure out if your management is actually helping you meet your goals. And, thanks to the folks writing for On Pasture, you’ll get to see different examples at work.

I’ll start with examples from my own grazing life. Back when I was running goats, I recorded birthdays and weights during kidding season. In the first year, I also recorded weights of the adults that went into the field to work before they left and when they got back. Why? Early on I was up against some folks who thought grazing firebreaks would be harmful to the animals, that they wouldn’t have enough forage or the right kind of forage to thrive. My records proved their concerns were unfounded. Weighing the kids at the end of the summer also let me compare weight gains for kids that had done field work and those that had stayed home on pasture. It turned out, the kids doing field work gained more weight than the ones that stayed home. So, I was able to reduce my workload by sending the entire herd to work on the project. Once I’d established that working goats were healthy goats, I gave up keeping those records. It was just too tedious, and I had better things to do.

Weigh-ins were also part of my first Cows Eating Weeds pilot project. The project took place at Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site and some staff were very concerned that eating weeds would cause health problems. So, once a week we ran all 30 heifers through a chute to weigh them, and check their mouths for sores and their rear ends for diarrhea. My records on that project and on subsequent projects demonstrated that weed-eating cows gained more weight than non-weed-eating cows and that there were no mouth sores or other issues as a result.

I had specific goals for my data collection and record keeping – prove the naysayers wrong. Or…make sure I was right, and they were wrong. 😀 I started by asking myself what records I needed to find the answer, and then I collected the data and wrote it down.

Click here for all articles in our series on goal setting and how it has helped graziers improve their lives and operations. We’ve made many of them open access because this is so important to your success.

I think that’s a good way to figure out which records are important, and which ones aren’t. So – if you haven’t written your goals down yet – now is a good time. Then ask what you really need to know to figure out if you’re making progress and gather that information. And then, don’t forget to check back in and USE the information! Gathering dust is not a good use for your records. (And if they’re gathering dust, then obviously you’re collecting the wrong data!)

Thanks for reading!

Kathy

2 thoughts on “Creating an Information System to Get You Where You’re Going

  1. I love John Marble’s counter-point (perhaps even curmudgeonly attitude). That’s a complement– coming from me. (One of my heroes met his life goals by being a Contrary Farmer.)

    Having said that, your comments about paying attention can not be emphasized enough. Thank you for stressing this. Routine may become “living in a haze” unless the routine tells you to sit down, or walk, and pay attention to what is going on.

    A beef rancher told me the other day that he solved some problems about calves wandering away from their mothers and having to be returned to the right paddock by sitting on a chair and watching them to see what changes could be made to his fencing system. It ended up saving several hours of work per week.

    1. Thanks, Curt! And thanks for the story about the rancher who solved a problem by just sitting and watching. We should all do that more. 🙂 Since I ran goats, I found that if I walked around with them for a bit, they would show me the hole in the fence where they’d gotten out. Then, they’d go back through and I’d fix the hole. 🙂

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