Let me check my phone…

As a Millennial (or more specifically Geriatric Millennial…seriously, who comes up with this stuff?!?) my generation has grown up around tech. For better or worse, our phones are often an extension of our bodies and tech is a natural part of our every day life. I’m not here to brag…often it’s ‘too much’ and people need to unplug and enjoy the simpler things in life, but tech also has it’s advantages.

When it comes to life on the farm, tech (in many forms) has become helpful, and even necessary to ensuring the health, safety and overall management of our operation. Who can argue with that? Here are a few of my favorite phone apps that help our farm run more efficiently.

  • Weather Apps (yes, plural) – Think about it…have you ever had a conversation with a farmer or rancher that didn’t involved the weather? I didn’t think so! Want to know when that rain will be coming in? Check the radar in an instant. Need be on high alert for a cold snap, blizzard or strong winds? Done! Personally, I have 3 weather apps that I look at daily…The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, and Weather Bug. When they agree, you can almost count on it. When they don’t, you know things are ‘anyone’s best guess’ and can still plan accordingly.
  • Plant Identifier – Sure, I took an Ecology class in high school, and I know the basics…but there are ALWAYS random weeds, grasses, etc. that I just can’t identify. One quick photo of a plant and I know not only what it is, but in what conditions it thrives, if it’s toxic, and for those ever fruitful weeds…tips on how to eradicate it from our pastures. I use PictureThis. It’s free and does everything I need, but there are many different apps (free and paid) depending on your needs.
  • Google Drive – Many larger cattle operations could benefit from paid management apps like CattleMax, PastureMap, Ranchr, etc. For us, we’re still pretty small and I was able to build out some Google Sheets that house all of our vital cattle management records. We have a sheet per animal with all of their detailed records, a linked sheet for an ‘at a glace’ summary of our active herd, a breakdown of calves by year, summary of our standard health program, hay inventory, semen inventory, beef sale records/locker dates, notes about our pasture management and herd rotations, and a list of all important vendors like our vet, backup vet, hoof trimmer, ultrasound tech, locker, and nutritionist. With these records all in one place, they are easy to find and we can access/edit them from any computer or phone. We also use Google Drive to store marketing materials, purchase agreements and invoices, photos of our cattle and photos of dams/sires in our pedigrees for easy access.
  • Camera Monitoring – Ok, so while this isn’t JUST an app, being able to monitor our animals (particularly during calving season) right from my phone has been a HUGE benefit. We still check our animals multiple times a day, but being able to check in as often as we like from any location has given us peace of mind, helps us monitor cows in active labor without being intrusive, and allowed us to monitor newborn calves to make sure everyone is up and nursing without being a distraction in the barn. There are so many camera options to chose from and they very a lot based on budget, range and functionality so I won’t touch on that here but any WIFI enabled camera system will have a mobile app available.
  • Freezer Alarm – Last but not least is actually a ‘wish list’ item for me. When we purchased our first quarter of Highland Beef we knew the investment going into our freezer was too big to not have it protected. In Iowa we get at least one large blizzard every few years that knocks out power and there is always the possibility that a freezer could stop working anytime. We purchased a digital freezer thermometer and shows us the internal temperature of our chest freezer without opening the lid. While this is great, we’ve since come across options for a Bluetooth enabled device. For less than $50 it will not only give you the internal temperature, but track the temperature history so you can see how consistent your freezer is (essential for good meat quality), send alerts to your phone for temperatures outside of a certain range, and as a Bluetooth device it will still work even if your WIFI is down.

Now, this is by no means an exhaustive list…just a few simple, cheap and efficient apps we use to better manage our cattle operation. I’m all for working smarter, not harder and having these resources at my fingertips definitely qualifies. Have additional apps on your on your ‘must have’ list? Send them our way!

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