Cow Camp Chatter:

by Ron Torell, Long-Standing Educator and Advocate of Agriculture


Technological Tools of the Trade

Modern day technology and the products that we take for granted such as computers with high speed internet access, IPods, GPS, PDAs, and cell phones would be fascinating to generations gone by. Computers are no longer new technology but a given in the educational system and business world. It’s astonishing that almost every child graduating from high school today will have been educated by way of computers beginning as early as preschool. Which of these modern day innovations fascinates you the most? For some it’s none of the above. It’s human nature to resist change and stick with what we are comfortable with. Due to cost, tradition or simply stubborn nature those who are reluctant to go along with the new-fangled technology take on tasks the hard way knowing there are tools available which may simplify their work.

Imagine the amazement of the cave man as the first wheel rolled off the assembly line. This fascination with new technology probably received the same level of both amazement and initial resistance throughout time as it does today. The wheel led to the human drawn pull cart which led to the horse drawn cart which led to the motorized vehicle. The beef industry has gone through a similar evolution brought on by technology. Following is a chronological short-list of technologies that have helped shape the U.S. beef industry over the past 150 years. The list is certainly not inclusive yet hits the high points.

1868 Refrigerated rail car units introduced

1920’s Official grading of beef carcasses begins

1930’s Beef cattle improvement research initiated
Artificial Insemination of cattle commercialized

1940’s Antibiotic and vaccine development for livestock
First heritability estimates for beef cattle traits published

1950’s First successful transfer of a bovine embryo made
First successful conception utilizing frozen semen

1960’s Acceptance and use of growth promoting implants

1970’s First ionophore introduced for enhancing feed efficiency
First prostaglandin approved for synchronization of estrus
First calf born in the U.S. from a frozen embryo
Mandatory Brucellosis vaccination program initiated

1980’s Anthelmintic product development to effectively control parasites
Refinement of antibiotics and vaccines
First identical twin calves born in U.S. from embryo splitting
Expected Progeny Differences (EPD’s) gained acceptance
Satellite auctions introduced

1990’s Ultrasound technology accepted
Check-off funded convenience products developed and introduced
DNA technology utilized

2000’s Computers, cell phones and e-mail used widely by industry
Sexed semen available commercially
Internet auctions gain popularity
Electronic Identification capabilities introduced to the industry
Instrument grading introduced to packing industry
Genomic enhanced EPD's accepted and utilized
Heat synchronization protocols refined
GPS technology widely used in agriculture

What have you incorporated into your operation from this list? Satellite auctions for example were very slow to catch on in the early 1980’s. Now the majority of truck load lots of cattle are marketed in this manner. Is internet marketing the next generational jump in technology? Ask yourself what you are willing to accept now or in the future.

In the beef industry we often hear about some professor, company, or corporate ranch manager with their vision or use of electronic identification, DNA testing, ultrasound, individual record keeping systems or computer programs which aid the producer in profitable beef cow management. If we aren’t already using this new technology we often question if we should be. Much of this technology requires the quantity of cattle to make it economically viable and also requires facilities and labor adequate enough to support the technology. Not every operation is created equal so just because a new technology works for one ranch does not necessarily mean it will economically benefit another.

All the technology in the world is no substitute for understanding and managing the basic needs of the beef cow. It’s important to keep in perspective that its technology that has changed and not the science and husbandry of the ruminant. The basic principles and understanding of beef cow management must be in place prior to successfully implementing these new tools. Applying new technology prior to having a solid understanding of the beef cow coupled with experience in ranch management is a good way to go broke fast. Not adopting some technologies is also a good way to go broke. There needs to be a balance. Bottom line, not all new technology is for every operation. Sometimes taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach is warranted.

On a personal level, my recent exposure to a crawler mounted hydraulic corner post pounder borrowed from a neighbor was an easy technology for me to embrace. I know now that there is a better tool for the job than my shovel and bar for digging holes. 

That’s enough for this month. A special thanks to my wife Jackie for her part in writing Cow Camp Chatter. As always, if you would like to discuss this article or simply want to talk cows, do not hesitate to contact me at 775-385-7665 or

(August 2012)