Joe Shockey doesn't consider himself to be technology savvy, so when he was asked to test out the features of a new dairy-specific mobile phone application, he was hesitant.
"I had a lot of reservations in the beginning," says Shockey, a dairy farmer and veterinarian in Ravenswood, W.Va. One of which was "Do I really need a smartphone?"
Now, a year later, he can't stop saying good things about the "app" and how he uses it on the dairy he operates with his father.
"It's mainly a time-saving application," he says. "It's like having a computer in your pocket. There's just so much information that's available at your fingertips."
Even if you don't use mobile apps, you probably have heard of the popular game app "Angry Birds." Well, apps are not just for the birds anymore. They are changing the way dairy producers do business, too. Here is a look at some of the ways that you can use mobile apps for herd- and business-management purposes.
Retrieve information cow-side
Shockey uses PocketDairy, an Android-based app from Dairy Records Management Systems, to access herd records stored in the farm's PCDART record-keeping system. The mobile app syncs wirelessly with the office computer that stores the records so he can retrieve the data anytime, anywhere.
Shockey has customized the app so it shows him action lists for the whole herd and information about individual cows, such as a cow's production status, her breeding history and health records. Shockey uses this information to monitor cows, make decisions during herd checks and to schedule tasks such as breeding, vaccination and dry offs.
"Whatever task you're doing that day with your herd, you can just pull the phone out and pull up the list," he says. "You can rank them on milk production, somatic cell, fat and protein. You can rank them when they're due to go dry or days since bred. It's up to you to customize it so it's best for your operation."
Shockey has made the app accessible to certain employees, particularly those in management roles, but also new employees who are not familiar with the cows.
"If they're pushing the cows up or they're in the parlor milking cows, they can check that cow's history themselves," Shockey says. "They can see when she was fresh, when she was bred, who her sire is, who her dam is — all of that cow's history is right there.
"I don't know that I'd recommend it for every employee, but definitely the people who are right there beside the cows working with them every day."
Shockey also has dabbled with using the app to enter data into the record-keeping system.
"We are now starting to input some data with the calving input (feature)," he says. "We just keep moving forward with it. It's unlimited what you can do with it."
For more information about the PocketDairy Android App, type "PocketDairy Android App" into the "Search" box at dairyherd.com or visit www.drms.org.
Manage your business better
Programs like the PocketDairy Android App are not yet mainstream in the dairy industry, so some producers have learned to adapt general business apps for use on the farm.
"One example of how I use a non-dairy app is to access the office computer that has all the records on it," says Ray Prock Jr. of Ray-Lin Dairy in Denair, Calif. "I can pull out time cards and take care of payroll. I can get production records. I can insert data remotely."
Prock uses an app known as LogMeIn to accomplish this. Basically, he can gain remote access to the office computer from a mobile device like a personal digital assistant or his mobile phone, as well as a computer at another location.
Prock is a celebrity, of sorts, in the app world. A couple years ago he was featured in a YouTube video, "How a Dairy Farmer Uses Evernote," an app that acts as a mobile dry-erase board, among other features.
"I use Evernote (to take notes on) everything from parts lists to meeting notes," he says. "If I'm walking around (the farm) and I see something (that needs attention), I can send an e-mail to myself or I can open Evernote and make a new note on something that needs to be fixed, a random thought I have if I'm thinking about a meeting I'm going to, a presentation that I have to make at a meeting or anything that I need to collect my thoughts on."
Here is the link to the Evernote video: http://myappsolution.com/blog/?p=85
Both Prock and Shockey use general agricultural apps to access the weather and news. Prock also uses an Android finance app to track commodity market and milk futures prices. (pFinance is the app he uses to check milk futures prices.)
Even dairy farmers in Africa are catching on to apps. An app called iCow is being used by smallscale dairy farmers in Kenya. A dairy farmer featured in an article about the app explains how using it has helped her better manage her cows and even double milk production.
As mobile app technology evolves here and around the globe, it holds promise as a tool to improve how you manage your cows and run your business.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A MOBILE APP
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you download an app for use on your dairy:
• Is it going to enhance my business procedures?
• Is it going to save me time?
• What type of security is deployed with the application? In the event that you lose or damage the phone, will you compromise or expose critical information? "Make sure that you have the appropriate security and security control in place," advises Don Walborn with AgWare, an agricultural software company.
• How or where am I going to use this application? Remember, mobile phones are not built for external environments and may not be able to sustain wear and tear or harsh weather conditions.
• What level of tech support is available from the mobile application's developer?
USE APPS TO CONNECT WITH EMPLOYEES
No need to fire up the computer or take a class to learn Spanish. Just pull out your smartphone and download a languagelearning app.
"A few minutes here and there throughout the day can be very effective," says Gregorio Billikopf, farm labor management specialist with the University of California.
Billikopf has reviewed the features of three language apps. To learn more, visit dairyherd.com and type "Smartphone APPS: It is easier than ever to learn Spanish" into the Search box.
Editor's Note: If you use an app that's not mentioned here, we'd like to hear about it. Send comments to: email@example.com