What is it to ‘keep records’?
To keep records is simply to collect relevant information that can help you to take good decisions and to keep track of activities, production and important events on a farm. Records can be about any performance of the animals, economic development, or any activity of the farmer or veterinarian. It is important to keep record keeping simple, and to keep records systematic. If records should be of use for the farmer, than they must be complete (none missing), they should be true (collected carefully). When record can’t be trusted because they are not complete or true, time should not be spent on it at all.
The records can:
- Be used in determining profitability of various techniques used at the farm
- Be used to keep your memory on what you did and/or what happened
- Be used in decision making, especially on a strategic level
- Be used to compare the efficiency of use of inputs, such as land, labour and capital, for example when implementing a new / alternative systems
- Help the farmer / investor in improving the efficiency of farm’s operations
The real value is to support the farmer and the advisors to keep track and take decisions. Too often, records are only kept for the purpose of official reporting, e.g. to the Ministry headquarters for the parasitical and not used as a tool on the farm/ranch for making the decision in time.
The records should be simple, easy and quick to interpret, and then they can be supplemented with remarks which can explain some unusual events or findings.
What can records be used for?
If a farmer wants to build a financially successful livestock enterprise, record keeping is a must. The records can be used to further develop the farm and the herd, and thereby the sector in the country. For many farmers, it helps to think of their farm as a business, and to see that good care and good management actually also influences the production and profitability of the farm.
Records are important in (animal) farming because:
- To keep track of all animals (Identification records)
- Evaluation of livestock for selection (breeding records; financial records; production records)
- Control of inbreeding and aid in breeding planning (breeding records)
- Aid in selecting animals with the right characteristics for breeding (production, health, feed efficiency) to improve the herd or flock
- To rationalize labour
- Aids in feed planning and management
- Aids in disease management; keeping track about treatment (disease records)
- Aids in finding the effective treatments
- To assess profitability/losses (financial records)
- Improves bargaining power on products, because you can see the investment and the price of the production (financial records)
- Credit/loan access (financial records)
Types of Records
The major types of records which are all described below:
5. Disease and treatment records
6. Financial records
1. Identification Records
- An identification method should be cheap, not harming the animal,reliable to read at a distance of at least 2-3 metres and by preference be permanent.
- Identification of the animals is of course not necessary if a farm has only one animal of a certain species, sex and age group.
- Identification of animals is usually through use of numbering, by marking of the animal and by description of certain characteristics of the animal. The latter is the most animal friendly, and can be done in practice by drawing e.g. the different color spots of the animals, or certain cowlicks, or taking photos. Giving the animals names and keeping a table with the characteristics of the animal and link it to the name can work in many cases.
- Intrusive methods of identification can be subdivided into 2 categories: permanent at the animal itself (which affect the animals most when doing it) and non-permanent.
a) Permanent Identification
- Tattooing (ear or under)
- Brand (Hot iron, freeze and chemicals)
- Ear-notching, Punching
- Tags (Ear-tags, Flank-tags, tail-tags and Brisket-tags; permanent if they do not fall off)
b) Non-Permanent identification
- Collars or neck or leg straps (chains)
- Paint and dyes (can be very animal friendly, but if the paint is full of chemicals it is not healthy and is not recommended, please check)
2. Breeding Records
The importance of breeding records is to measure the productive efficiency of the herd and to enable selection. For example, many farmers would like a cow or a goat which gives birth yearly, or a sow 2 litters per year. Therefore, an accurate up-to-date breeding record of each individual female is necessary. An indicator for fertility/efficiency of mating or inseminations is e. g the number of matings or inseminations needed to get an animal pregnant.
If many matings or inseminations are needed, it can indicate that there is a problem with the female or the male, or it can indicate that the observation of the heats is not efficient, or the semen, the technique of insemination is insufficient, or the feeding is imbalanced. If the cow is taken to a bull, it can be the cow or the bull which has a problem. Data for insemination or service with a male also is needed to be reminded when the female should be prepared before giving birth, e.g. like in the cow’s case, to be dried off in time.
The most important data in breeding records include:
- Pedigree/parentage (name or other identification of parents and grand parents)
- Fertility (dates of all services (this also allows calculating the number of services per conception), dates of giving birth (allows to calculate the age of first calving/giving birth and the period between successive birth)
- Birth details (number and weight of newborns, was assistance necessary? Stillborn / perinatal deaths / vitality score)
3. Production Records
These records are useful in measuring the performance of the animals and the herd. It contributes greatly to the economic appraisal of the enterprise. It can help farmers take decisions on investments, based on how many animals produce how much on the farm, so how much surplus can the family expect?
The records can also be used by the whole sector to improve the genetics of the animals in the country, with specific focus on the production.
Production records are kept of:
- Animal products like eggs per hen per week and milk per cow per day in combination with milk quality data, and of
- Animals which are slaughtered, in terms of for example weight, weaning age and weight, daily gain, production period, and how many animals e.g. per litter reached slaughtering.
Production records are also necessary when farmers start selling products together, to know how much is available every day or every week or in a certain period.
4. Feeding Records
Feeding records give information about the amount, type and quality of the feed.
Feeding records can be used both for day to day management and adjustment of the feed ration. Together with the production data, it can for example be used to adjust if a milking cow needs more concentrate, or help in decisions about examining animals which seem to not grow, but still eat very much. It can also be used for planning of activities related to feed conservation and establishment of grazing areas in the following season.
The important feeding records are:
- Produced and available fodder on farm; quantity and if possible quality of the different feeds. Including content of energy, protein and minerals
- A feeding plan which tells how much feed is required per day per animal in different age groups (grown-ups, newborn, pregnant the first time etc.) or per group of animals (hens):
- Left-over feed if any (per head and per feed, if possible)
- Spoilage (per batch)
5. Disease and treatment records
Disease and treatment records are necessary to keep track of the disease events in which each animal is involved during its lifetime. This can guide to better management practices by leading the attention to repeated events or certain vulnerable groups of animals over time (e.g. it can show how animals almost always need disease treatments during weaning). It provides information about the health status of each individual animal and the whole heard, and it can help ensuring important vaccinations given at the right time.
On basis of the disease and treatment records, success of interventions both for prevention and treatment can also be evaluated.
After treatment with dewormers, acaricides and antibiotics and other medicines, milk, eggs and meat cannot be eaten by humans for some time. The records are essential for keeping track of this, e.g. when this withdrawal time is over. In organic animal husbandry, the withdrawal time is normally longer than the ordinary withdrawal time (double, or three times)
Disease and treatment records can for example involve:
- Disease occurrence and date
- All handlings to cure diseases (also non chemical treatment)
6. Financial Records
The records of the costs and earnings related to the animal farming be kept for cash analysis and enterprise appraisal.
In most households, the most necessary records are simple overview over the family cash flow, that is, the total economy in the household: what comes in? and what do we buy?
In addition to this, keeping records of the animal enterprises is and important part, because it can show whether it gives an income to the family or not. If records are kept particularly for the animal herd as an income generating commodities, it will help the family to see what they invest in it, and what it costs to produce it. Also in relation to the animal farm, an investment is more than an expenditure, an investment hopefully enables and improves the production in the future. It is also important to count approximately how many hours of work it has taken in the animal herd, because it can help price setting.
Economic records are of paramount interest in providing the farmer with information concerning the profitability of his farm. Moreover they are of great help in decision making at the right time. For example, is it profitable to feed concentrates, is it advisable to apply for a loan or credit to invest in a machinery or technology?
Answering these questions is only possible if adequate records are available. Moreover, for tax purposes and for the purpose of getting loans or credit, economic records are required.