The Virginia beef industry constantly adapts to technological advancements and new best practices. In 2012, beef cow numbers increased to 686,000 head, up 22,000 over the previous year. In 2012, cattle and calves were the second-highest earning commodity, with $434 million in cash receipts. This accounted for 12.1 percent of total receipts from agricultural commodities.
Steve Hopkins with Virginia Cooperative Extension educates area farmers about the Cow Sense Management software, a herd management tool. Hopkins believes this program will be a vast improvement on existing herd management practices.
“It’s a record-keeping program,” Hopkins says. “I have a lot of producers still keeping records in Excel spreadsheets and handwritten copies.”
Hopkins offered a beef management course and hosted a training session last year with a few farmers in a small group setting.
“Farmers need to use whatever tools they have available to make wise decisions,” Hopkins says. “With the increased value of the products we sell and increased input cost, mistakes are very costly.”
Not only is the Cow Sense Management program an efficient way to store information, it also gives farmers insight into their herds.
“The biggest advantage is being able to make more accurate culling decisions to advance your herd,” Hopkins says.
Electronic ear tags may be used in combination with the management software, allowing producers – as well as the state veterinarian’s office – to keep track of individual cattle.
“The use of the electronic ear tags (EID) has dramatically changed the way we are working these calves and sorting them,” Hopkins says. “You can take a reader and transfer the animal’s ID into a computer.”
Using the USDA 840 EID tags will enable the State Veterinarian’s office to determine the original source of an animal and respond quickly to any food safety threats.
“Certainly if we had a disease outbreak, we would be able to track the animal and keep the disease outbreak small. The tagging of animals will assist the state vets in determining the source of an animal,” Hopkins says. “From an economic standpoint, disease tracking keeps prices down for the consumer.”
Cow Sense Management software is only one of the programs Hopkins has worked with, but he says there are other record keeping programs that will also work well. Ultimately he stresses the importance of good record-keeping.
Hopkins looks to the future and more technological innovations to improve the Virginia beef industry.
“It’s a work in progress,” he says. “It’s a learning curve.”