Custom Mobile App Puts iPads Out to Pasture (Literally)
A farmer loads liquid feed from a distillery in Owensboro, KY, 1938 / Russell Lee, U.S. Farm Security Administration
Cattle farmers have been using liquid feed supplements for more than a century. The practice is not new. What has changed over time, though, is the delivery process and precision with which dealers can custom formulate liquid feeds to meet the specific needs of individual livestock herds.Decades ago, farmers squirted liquid supplements (like molasses) onto hay bales in hopes that the sticky sweetness would inspire the cows to eat more food. Today, farmers use troughs to deliver nutrient-dense, molasses-based liquid elixirs to beef cattle to keep them growing at a steady, ready-for-market pace. These palatable, nutritionally balanced supplements include additives like protein, energy, vitamins and minerals. It sounds simple enough. Mix the ingredients together and pump the watery tincture into a trough. But a system like this is a recipe for inconsistency and failure. If the liquid feed is too tasty sweet, the cows will overeat; if the liquid feed is too bitter, they won’t eat enough and will miss out on the nutritional supplements being delivered by the liquid feed. Balance is key — with constant readjustments. Maintaining product uniformity within and between batches requires persistence, skill and a whole lot of math. In 2012, higher-ups at CowBos Liquid Feeds (a division of the Penny Newman Grain Co.) began to wonder if there was a better way to calculate feed usage and mix percentages of the CowBos liquid feed supplement. At the time, vendors used scratch paper, pens and calculators to compute feed-mix ratios. Now, they have an iPad app that figures the calculations for them smack dab in the middle of the muddy, cow-packed pasture.
CowBos (think “Cow Boss”) is a division of the Penny Newman Grain Co. (Literally)
Picture the situation. Each day, CowBos distributors drive their CowBos tankers out to cattle farms. On board, they have a “sweet” liquid feed and a “bitter” liquid feed. At each trough, the driver is tasked with figuring out how much of each substance to add to maintain optimal proportions of protein, energy and minerals for the specific herd feeding from the trough.Think of the variables; the size of the trough matters, the size of the herd matters, the type of dry food the cattle are consuming matters, the leftovers matter — not just the amount but also the bitter-to-sweet ratio of the carryover. If the cows are eating too much, more bitter feed can be added. If they are not eating enough, more sweet feed can be added. After analyzing all of these variables, the driver figures out a mixture ratio for the new delivery — maybe it’s 50/50 bitter-to-sweet, or 75/25 bitter-to-sweet. For years, CowBos vendors made these calculations by hand. Imagine the time devoted to the task. The system was also time-consuming on the invoicing end. Under the paper-based system, CowBos dealers had to sort through the paper slips provided by the drivers in order to invoice the cattle ranchers each month. In 2012, CowBos execs approached eXcelisys with the idea of creating an iPad app to streamline operations. After a development process as tricky as roping a steer, eXcelisys designed a custom FileMaker Go solution that distributors can use out in the field to do all of their mix percentages and feed usage calculations. The driver takes measurements at the trough, inputs the numbers and gets instant feedback on the precise bitter/sweet mixture that needs to be added. The solution uses MirrorSync2 by 360Works to transmit the data back to the main Penny Newman server when the iPad makes a network connection through either wifi or cell. In this way, Penny Newman’s corporate headquarters gets detailed, timely reports on how ranchers are using its product. The quick data access and analysis also helps Penny Newman continue to refine its product and processes to stay ahead of the competition.
The eXcelisys custom FileMaker Go iPad app shows a detail screen for each pasture serviced.
Dealers use this trough service screen to enter their service data for the day. The dealer inputs the number of days the feed needs to last, the gallons of feed still remaining and the target ratio for the bitter/sweet mix. After the data has been entered, the CowBos app calculates how many gallons of the sweet mix and bitter mix to add.
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