It’s a chore none of us like, but it is critical to the success of your animal health program. “It” is recordkeeping, and keeping the right kind of records is imperative in any stocker operation for two basic reasons.

  1. Your perception is always wrong. I have run several different field trials on antibiotics, vaccines and different technologies. My thoughts about how the data would turn out were always incorrect.  Also, the producers I have worked for had the same problems with perception. Their perceptions on their buyers, cattle performance and drug performance were also always incorrect. 

For example, we recently conducted a trial to compare the efficacy of two different antibiotic treatments. Everyone involved assumed one would perform better than the other, when in fact, the reverse was true. If we had not done a good job of collecting useful data, we would have never realized that.

We also had a perception that video calves would actually make more money than “opportunity” or auction market calves, as they typically have a better health program. After collecting and analyzing data, we came to the conclusion that the mortality and morbidity might be higher in the auction market calves, but for some stocker operators with the time and resources to manage them appropriately, the net return was actually higher than for the calves sourced through video markets. With that information, some of our clients made changes in how they procured cattle, as they had the resources to adequately manage auction market calves.

  1.  If you want to improve year to year, you have to have data. When you have records to reflect back on it allows you to change directions on many different fronts to ultimately make your operation more profitable.

We benchmark our clients anonymously so that they can draw comparisons through a Web-based management software program that we created specifically for stocker operations. Our software started out as a spreadsheet to collect lot information and a timeline for treatment protocols. Since then, we have collaborated with a computer software developer to create a central database program to aid in benchmarking.

The software program prompts a stocker operator or his employees to utilize standardized processing and treatment protocols that we have developed through practical experience. When a producer processes a group of cattle for the first time, he can choose a processing protocol and the software takes you step by step through a standardized list of treatments. Similarly, any time a calf is treated for illness, the system helps prompt the person on the appropriate protocols based on certain specifications. This practice helps ensure that someone avoids excessive treatment of an animal or re-treating with a product that may have been ineffective. Since it is Web based, the manager or owner can obtain the information from anywhere.

 As a consulting veterinarian, I recommend that stocker operators need to keep the following information:

 Group or lot information

  1. Origin of calves
  2. Order buyer, if applicable
  3. Date purchased and date sold
  4. Average pay weight
  5. Head count
  6. Sex
  7. $/cwt purchase and sale price
  8. Processing protocol outline 

Individual animal information

  1. All weight events: processing, reprocessing, treatment and sale, if available
  2. At treatment: ailment, temp, weight, drugs used and date
  3. Death events: cause and date

What to do once data is gathered

While some of us are good about keeping records, most of us are not good at interpreting the information. If you are doing a good job of collecting the above data, from there you can examine several different subsets to evaluate the success of your animal health program on your overall profitability.

There are two primary areas that will help you evaluate performance.

  1. Determine cattle and drug performance: morbidity, mortality, antibiotic treatment success, case fatality rate, treatment death interval, fatal disease onset, day of death and average daily gain 
  2. Compare the variances on your operation: differences in order buyers, origin, weight, seasonality, metaphylaxtic antibiotics, treatment antibiotics and personnel

If you are just getting started in your data collection practices, I recommend you at least develop a spreadsheet that works with your operation. If you are running 700 to 1,000 head, I really recommend using electronic records to help keep your information organized.

Ryan Staerkel operates a mixed veterinary practice in Enid, Okla.For more information about his Web-based stocker data management software (Cattle Data Systems), contact him at staerkeldvm@beefmanagement.com