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Connected Cattlemen

Beef cattle operations are investing in technology and saving time and money.

Landscapes Summer 2019
Coy Franks uses a drone to search for stray cattle

Photo by Russell Graves

Canyons north of Matador in West Texas can be tough for a horse or ATV to navigate. Coy Franks uses a drone to search for stray cattle on this rugged terrain. 

These days, technology is everywhere.

It’s down four miles of caliche road. It’s in the center of a stocker-filled wheat field. And it’s in the pocket of most ranchers, whether they want it or not.

Three Capital Farm Credit borrowers explain how going high-tech has helped them do more on their cattle operations with less.

Video – Coy Franks
Video – Coy Franks

Up in the Air

Ranching can be tough in the rough terrain just north of Matador, Texas.

Especially when the rain falls.

Coy Franks, a longtime Capital Farm Credit customer who runs a commercial cow-calf operation, found a solution. The pilot and model airplane hobbyist bought a drone.

The quadcopter serves as his eyes and ears as it flies high above often-washed-out ranch roads and treacherous quicksand, and other places he can’t reach by truck, horse or ATV.

“A drone can do a lot of the jobs I used to,” the cattleman says with a laugh.

 Now with the drone, Franks can check a dozen water gaps on two rivers in half a day — a job that takes two to three days if he drives to them all.

Coy Franks holding his drone.

Photo by Russell Graves

Using his drone, Coy Franks can check the water gaps on his property in half a day. The job takes two to three days if he drives to them all.

Searching for Missing Cattle

Franks also uses the drone to look for missing cattle. Recently, he and his grandson helped a friend who’d lost some cows on extremely brushy land.

“We found the cows and herded them right out of that pasture with the drone,” Franks says.

While his piloting and model airplane experience were helpful, he believes anyone can fly a drone — with a little practice, of course.

“Model airplanes are hard to fly. They’re not forgiving at all,” Coy says. “Drones are a piece of cake.”

He offers this advice to other ranchers considering one: Purchase a model that has a “return home” feature.

“If you get it lost, you press that button and just sit there and wait,” he says. “It comes back to you by itself.”

There Wasn’t an App for That

Alan Schaffner doesn’t consider himself a high-tech guy.

He does, however, consider himself a guy who likes efficiency. And there came a time when pen-and-paper record-keeping wasn’t cutting it for him anymore.

Alan Shaffner

Photo by Katrina Huffstutler

Alan Schaffner is developing a herd-management app because he couldn’t find one that meets his needs. The app will launch before year-end 2019.

The rancher, who runs about 300 head of commercial Angus cows in Clay County, Texas, tried a couple of cattle business apps. But he found they were either intimidating or didn’t fit his needs as a cow-calf producer.

That’s when Schaffner, who has been a Capital Farm Credit customer since the mid-1980s, decided to create his own.

“I came in one day and asked my wife, ‘What would you think if I were to develop a livestock app?’” he says. “And she looked at me like I was crazy, and — this is the gospel truth — said, ‘What do you know about apps?’”

“I came in one day and asked my wife, ‘What would you think if I were to develop a livestock app?’ And she looked at me like I was crazy….”

– Alan Schaffner

Appealing to Low-Tech Ranchers

What he did know was what he wanted in one: the ability to track as little or as much information as he wished, either at the pasture or individual cow level. At the same time, it needed to be easy for a low-tech rancher to learn.

For two years, Schaffner has worked with developers to perfect the app and get it ready for release this year. In the meantime, he’s been using it himself.

The app allows him to record vaccination records, feed and hay purchases, and stocking rates, as well as other data. He also can add auction settlement sheets to easily track how his steers sell. And, of course, that data syncs across his devices.

No signal? No problem. Information is stored to your phone until you have more bars.

“I could put this on a piece of paper and put it in the truck,” Schaffner says. “But then you go back and look at it, and (wonder) was it done in November or January? And what if my notepad blows out of the truck or gets rained on or left at home? I’ll tell you what, my phone stays pretty close to me.”

Seedstock Solutions

Every cow has a story.

At Halfmann Red Angus near Miles, Texas, it’s dangling from her ear.

The seedstock operation, which has a long relationship with Capital Farm Credit, uses electronic identification, or EID, tags on each of its animals. The tags work in conjunction with a Gallagher TSI scale head/data collection tool and a Bluetooth reader.

Cody Halfmann says there is no doubt the technology helps him, his brother, Chad, and his dad, Glen, use their time more efficiently and manage their cattle better.

Glen, Chad and Cody Halfmann

Photo by Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Glen Halfmann, center, and sons Chad, left, and Cody rely on technology for efficient herd and time management.

Storing Herd Records

“If we’re chute-side, and a cow comes up, with a quick scan I can pull up her pedigree, her progeny, her vaccination record — everything that’s ever happened to her,” he says.

At times — like when artificially inseminating the cows — each animal is treated as an individual. But at other times, most of the herd receives the same treatment. That’s when the Halfmanns’ system is a big time-saver.

“We’ve got one place we can load 20 or 30 cows up in a big snake,” Cody says. “And if we’re doing the same thing to each of them, I can set a default as the four or five processes we are doing. And then all we have to do is scan the animal, and it adds the rest.”

Cody and Chad Halfmann scan a calf’s ear tag to access its health records.

Photo by Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Cody and Chad Halfmann scan a calf’s ear tag to access its health records.

Prescribing the Right Formula

Chad likes the fact that the system allows him to customize data and create his own formulas.

“For example, say we’re giving LongRange dewormer. The product is based on weight. And it’s expensive, so you don’t want to overdose, but you also don’t want to underdose,” he says.

“We’ve programmed a formula in where, as soon as the animal’s weight comes up, it will tell us exactly how many milliliters it needs,” he adds.

Glen began introducing technology to the ranch and farm when his sons were young.

“My father has always been very open to innovation and new ideas,” Cody says. “And now, he’s almost given us free rein, in a way, to go out there and look for new things to bring in so we can do better.”

– Katrina Huffstutler

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