Is your record keeping adequate?

Regardless of the successes or failures a farm or ranch experiences in a given year, it is difficult for operators to learn how to capitalize on or correct problem areas if record keeping is subpar. Oklahoma State University Extension Farm Management Specialist Courtney Bir, discussed the key points of proper record keeping in a recent webinar.

First, she noted that record keeping can encompass a wide array of data and information.

“Whenever I talk to producers about record keeping, the first thing I ask is how they define record keeping,” she said. “There is no one right answer, but this helps narrow down what kind of record keeping they are doing. Are they trying to determine which of their breeding stock produces the best offspring? Are you keeping track of what field is performing well if they are raising crops? Or are you referring to records for tax purposes?”

According to Bir, taxes can be a strong motivation for record keeping, but tax minimization is not necessarily profit maximization; however, any kind of record keeping is a good start toward a financial analysis.

“My soap box is always that tax management is not farm management, however tax management is part of farm management,” Bir said. “Our goal should never be to have zero taxes; the easiest way to do that is to do nothing.”

Another form of record keeping is financial analysis and planning, which uses financial evaluation to make better decisions about your farm. This includes production records to some extent.

“Financial analysis and planning help determine where an operation is, where you want to be and how to get there. You can’t really get a financial analysis if you don’t know what is going on with your farm,” Bir explained. “Much of this comes down to your goals. You might keep really detailed records or you might be okay with jotting down notes about your cowherd on the back of an envelope.”

She said in a perfect world everyone would have detailed records with every statistic possible, making it easy to make farm decisions, but in reality, that is not always feasible for every operator. Making it a habit to set aside time for record keeping can make a big difference in the overall record keeping process because it is easy to get behind if there is not an established routine.

“Try to set aside a couple hours on a Friday afternoon or first thing Monday morning, or the first of the month to update your records,” Bir said.

Next, determine what information is economically feasible to collect and summarize that data for use in the decision-making process.

“I feel like sometimes people think the goal is the record keeping itself, but if you don’t take that next step to change your behavior based on what your records are showing, the data doesn’t help,” Bir explained.

She also said it is important to know what records are required to programs you are enrolled in, such as Farm Service Agency programs, Paycheck Protection Program loans or grants.

What records should you keep?

For cow-calf operators, Bir suggests the most valuable information to retain is cow, sire, calf and herd information. Additionally, she said computer software requirements should be considered for digital record keeping. Bir was quick to clarify that paper records are perfectly acceptable, but reinforced the positives of utilizing a computer or smartphone to streamline and backup data. Additionally, Bir said cattle producers should consider commercial versus seedstock needs when record keeping.

“If you are selling seedstock and you are selling to 4-Hers, FFA members or other purebred operators, you might want to consult with your breed organization, because there may be different records you have to keep as opposed to a commercial operator,” she said.

For those using computer programs to record data, the level and cost of software support should always be a consideration.

“Are you computer savvy and can teach yourself? Does the company offer good technical support to walk you through using the program?”

Additionally, some software programs require specific information for cattle. One example is weight. Does the program require you to weigh the cattle? Do you have scales on your property and is it feasible for you to catch and weigh your cattle?

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For forage record keeping, Bir suggests keeping records on variety, planting rates, fertilizer rates, pesticides, fuel consumption, grain, hay or forage matter produced.

“Once again, if you don’t have a good way to measure any of these records, be very careful if you choose to purchase software,” she said.

For goats, Bir suggests producers retain kid births, weaning weights and adjusted weaning weights. The number of births is especially important to select for breeding does that birth twins. Oklahoma State Extension currently offers a free Excel spreadsheet that is available to use for goat records keeping. It can be accessed at Bir said OSU extension is currently working on a similar sheep record spreadsheet.

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].