Records Are A Waste Of Time

by Dave Pratt

Some people think that records are THE key to managerial success. Not me. I think most records are a waste of time. Records give us data. We need information. It takes analysis to turn data into useful information.  

The problem is we spend 90% or more of our time collecting the data and only 10%, if that, doing any analysis.  If records are going to be useful, we need to turn those percentages around.

Even if we spend more time on the analysis there’s another problem: We can get so focused on looking things up we forget that it is even more important to think things through. As we look up how much we spent on supplement last year, we neglect thinking about how forage conditions and prices have changed and thinking through our options to adjust.

Do I really think that all records are a waste of time. No. At Ranching For Profit there are three criteria we use to determine if a record is worth keeping. It needs to be specific, timely, and comparable to a plan.

Specific so that it actually gives you the information you need to make decisions. This is one reason why I think unit cost of production is practically useless. It isn’t specific enough to have any diagnostic value.  Records need to be specific.

Timely? It has to be something that is relevant NOW.

And comparable to a plan … well, if there isn’t a plan to start with and a target you are aiming at, the data you collect is just noise.

Your stock flow, grazing chart and cash flow are all examples of extremely useful records. In fact, each of these is a plan and a record in one document. Ranching For Profit School graduates use these tools to make projections AND to record the actuals AND to make course adjustments as the year progresses. They are specific, timely and comparable to a plan.

I challenge you to make a list of all of the records you keep. What proportion of your time do you spend collecting the data? How much time do you spend actually using it? Challenge the records you keep against the criteria I’ve laid out. If they don’t meet the three criteria, throw them out. They are a waste of time.

5 Responses to “Records Are A Waste Of Time”

September 12, 2018 at 2:30 am, james coffelt said:

Interesting subject:

In our case, with 8000 acres and 1600 head, we have 2 herds, registered and commercial.

The registered set the pricing for both herds, as they are the source of bulls and seed stock. The negative of the registered is we have to tag and weigh every calf, run the wheels off machines, bearings, drive shafts, fuel, labor, etc.. which totals 30k+ per year. Additionally, the AAA seems to invent a new genetic defect every year.

The commercial herd, I drive thru every week or two, no tagging, no work, no cost.
Look at calves, cow type, use great bulls, raised here.

However, the value of the registered bulls, which must come out of registered cows to put on top of the commercial cows, equalizes the price of both herds.


September 15, 2018 at 7:18 am, Brandye said:

> James, I am curious. Would purchasing great registered bulls to use on your commercial cows be better than raising them yourself? Perhaps instead of having two herds, getting rid of the registered and purchasing the bulls, you could stock more commercial and lighten your workload.
If it is a profitable source, I suppose not but I know all of the additional steps you’re taking has to be a “headache”.
This is a very thought provoking thread.


September 12, 2018 at 4:37 pm, Burke said:

Exactly! Way too much time spent tagging and weighing calves and keeping other nearly useless records. Unless James is making a lot of money in the registered business, makes me wonder why he maintains registry. Bulls don’t have to be registered to breed cows. To make good cows, most of the records kept don’t help very much for total ranch profitability.


September 12, 2018 at 8:32 pm, George Kahrl said:

Catchy title Dave, got me to read because records/data are really useful IF they are preceded by goals and objectives and a planned program. Without goals and objectives you don’t know what you are managing for. So start there. Then, figure out what data is helpful, because it is – very helpful. If you are a business person, you will have monthly, quarterly and annual and five year goals, all of which are realized by using the data of accounting, and using that data to manage finances. ( Some ranchers are not business people and have loosely defined or absent goals)Similarly there are environmental, and livestock, and farm resources all of which can have goals and objectives, defined management criteria and a plan/program. Data is very useful – is used to help steer your ship.
Here’s an example relating to the above posts about calving. I run 950 commercial cows, we tag every calf. I collect the data and use it to see if the herd has a 70+% calving rate in the first cycle. I watch my death loss and adjust the program for problems, and celebrate successes. A long time cattle buyer responded to “What do you look for?” with – Consistency (one word). The calving data helps me know if my mineral and feed and nutrition program is tracking. I look for mineral with copper, zinc, and magnesium ( data on the label) which increases conception and fertility – goals. The man tagging calves, costs approx $4,500 a month for two months. He is a fixed cost full time employee – but if he saves 6 calves in that time of being in the cattle every day, I have more than covered his monthly salary. All calves are tagged, that’s extra, but it helps me know what age groups are calving in my goal of 70+% cows calve out in the first cycle. I then also know the number of lives calves and can make early plans for marketing the calf crop by truck load lots, and short loads.I market with IMI certification, and natural beef, they want to see my data ( calving records, vet supply receipts, etc) and I am able to leverage that data for a better sale price.
At preg test time I want 92% bred in the first 50 days. ( I have attained this several years running) I note each cows tag, and day of conception. This helps with seeing if my nutrition and feed and cycling program is meeting my goals. I also see age distribution across the herd, and which ages are most represented and which are calving in the first cycle. I am able to talk about the herd in real time with the vet based on the use of the data collected while pregtesting.
I raise my own commercial bulls. They must wean over 600lbs, gain 2.75lbs a day, have good feet and confirmation, and known sires through DNA testing. Data helps me know if I am realizing my goals. Cattle Max, I just read tonight, will also tell me the body weight percentage of weaned calf to its mother.
In Good to Great – one ratio is key to business success – percentage of weaned body weight is a key ratio in ranching. It speaks to efficiency of the animal, success of the nutritional program, fertility, consistency of crop, abFarmers use data all the time,ility to realize the greatest return in $ per cow….etc
Farmers are techies. They use data to manage to goals and measure the space between rows in inches, seeds per foot of row, yield per acre, fertilizer as tied to soils and yields…. Why are not ranchers? Don’t know, but data is really helpful – however if you don’t have goals, objectives, and a defined program data by itself is not useful.
Design a program, set goals, then gather appropriate data to see if you are on track and exceeding expectations. How many ranchers do you know who, at preg test time simply like to know “Open or Bred”.
Fertility test your bulls, collect the data, one or two bad bulls can be costly in conception rates. The difference between a Bred cow, and an Open cow is at least $600. A 2% increase in conception rates in a herd of 200 cows is worth $2,400, across 400 cows = ….??…. Each calf born after the first cycle is 20 days younger. At 2.5lbs a day gain ( or more ) that’s 50 lbs x $1.6 is $80. A 10% increase in births in your first cycle is ….? You do the math. Cows that calve early, conceive early, and – pass on fertility as well. Its amazing what 3# of alfalfa a day will do for the microbes in the rumen, and subsequently body condition score. Are you at BCS 5 at calving? That’s data, information, and a goal. What will you do with it? What’s in your wallet? Are you a business person in the business of ranching? Or, are you a rancher trying to make your business work? What’s your goal(s)?


September 14, 2018 at 6:48 am, John Marble said:

The variety of responses to this topic causes me to think that perhaps the key is for ranchers to determine precisely which pieces of data are actually valuable and which are useless. And these decisions are primarily determined by the business structure.

It appears that an awful lot of data collection is related to emotion and vanity. We love our cattle so we want to know everything about them. Calf data allows us to compare our outcomes to the neighbors. And almost none of this data appears to have much basis in economics. I am intrigued by George Karl’s data-intensive approach above, but many of the “data” pieces he mentions seem more like policy to me. For instance, the decision to fertility test bulls is just smart policy, based upon economic analysis in general, rather than data on his individual bulls. For folks who have permanent cow herds, it would appear pretty easy to identify which cows are raising the dinks and hairballs. I guess writing down those bad cow ID#s is data collection, but the important thing is making the policy decision to sell them.

In my case, I like my cattle, but all of them are transitory. I do record a minimal amount of information related to identification, but even this is driven by economics: I want to be able to perform Gross Margin/Unit calculations on each class of cattle, so it’s necessary to ID each animal to know which class it falls into. I only tag calves at processing, and this is simply so I know who has been processed and who hasn’t. I don’t even record the individual numbers. I use one color for steers and a different color for heifers. My calves are never individually weighed at sale time, and even if they were I don’t know what I would do with that data. The structure of my little business requires only enough data to do economic analysis so I can see what worked this year in order to refine next year’s game plan. And that small pile of data lives in single spiral-bound notebook.


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