I know you would rather be out in the pens looking after your deer and elk rather than sitting at a computer updating your livestock records. However, you better get used to spending more time keeping detailed records!
There are five major reasons why good livestock records must be maintained:
1. Regulations - most jurisdictions that license game farms also require detailed records be kept. These records must be submitted to the regulatory agency (e.g., inventory) and may be subject to inspection and audit. Penalties are often in place for non- compliance.
2. Herd management - this includes keeping track of animal inventory, health records, and performance data.
3. International/domestic health management - with concerns about CWD and FMD, health records are now mandatory in order to export animals and cervid products.
4. Marketing - people are interested in pedigree data on breeding stock and semen.
5. Consumers - health conscious consumers want to know where their products came from - "from pasture to plate".
Data is simply numbers e.g., birth weights, dates, breeding and exposure, antler measurements, sires and dams and treatment dates. In itself, data is not very useful.
Information is structured and analyzed data, e.g., weight gains, antler scores, cost analyses, health summaries, progeny summaries and so on. It is information that can be used to improve your herd and the profitability of your operations. For example, good information can help you cull your herd of poor producers, e.g., open does, single births, below average weights. Good information can be used to select breeding stock, e.g., above average characteristics, strong weight gains, superior antler scores.
What type of data should you be keeping? Here are some suggestions.
Basic data that you collect and keep on each deer or elk should include:
1. Animal name
2. Tag number id
3. Herd number id
4. Microchip or tattoo id
5. Other id
6. DNA profile
9. Date of birth
13. Source farm id - if purchased
14. Disposal date
15. Disposal reasons (sold, slaughtered, died).
Due to the paranoia about CWD and other diseases, any animal that dies without obvious causes on your farm should be sent in for a post mortem. This is required if you are part of a CWD Surveillance program anyway. Record the reason(s) for death and keep a copy of the lab report on file.
Unlike other livestock industries, we really don't have standard performance characteristics that we measure in deer and elk. Most producers are interested in antler scores in deer and velvet production in elk. Therefore, the typical performance data that most collect includes:
1. Birth weight
2. Weight at specified ages
3. Antler score at specified ages
4. Velvet production at specified ages
Medication and Health Data
With increasing public pressure on livestock practices, society is demanding that farmers show they are responsible food producers. Producers can use mediation records to evaluate and improve production while showing good management for food quality and safety.
Good medication records are essential to:
1. Identify problem areas - you can't manage what you can't measure.
2. Determine the costs of diseases and assess whether it is cheaper to prevent or treat or dispose of the animal.
3. Help you and your vet to determine optimal dosages, treatment intervals and duration of treatment. (Especially important with cervids since we don't have much research data and most drugs are "off-label".
4. Show prudent use of antimicrobials. The livestock industry is being pressured to reduce the use of antibiotics to avoid the increase in superbugs.
Medication records are also necessary to receive certification in on-farm food safety programs and various branded programs. This information should also include:
1. Vaccination records
2. Treatment records
3. Feed medication formulations
4. Drug inventory
5. Pesticide-herbicide use on crops and pastures
6. Veterinary prescriptions and use of products such as altering the dose, frequency, route, location, species, disease and withdrawal period.
Everyone who owns livestock and uses drugs should keep records on the use of vaccines, antibiotics, parasecticides and pesticide- herbicides. Information should also be tracked as to the method of administration, e.g., orally in the feed or water, injected or by implant, ear tag or oiler.
Any producer concerned about liability should keep written records on animal health products and pesticide-herbicide. If a trace-back occurs because of a chemical residual problem, these records will help identify the source and responsibility for the problem.
Medication records can be as simple as writing which animal was treated with what drug on the calendar or in a note book. A better choice is computerized records as mentioned below. Medication records should be kept for the life of the animal or for at least two years after the animal is sold into the food chain.
How should your records be kept? Although you can probably do an adequate job keeping paper records, a computerized record keeping system is the way to go. You have several options here. You can use standard software such as spreadsheets, word processors or databases. Unfortunately, standard office software does not have the capability to perform complex and useful analyses of the data.
A better solution is to use one of the specialized livestock software packages such as The Rancher ( http://www.westpointenet.com/_scripts/index.asp?mnews=1 ) or Game Master (http://www.keltec.com/software/index.html ). The advantages of these packages is that they provide: a) a data model, b) accessibility, c) data organization, d) time savings, and e) detailed and complex analyses.
Another advantage of using these software packages is that they are capable of electronic data exchange - sending selected data elements to the regulatory body or transferring the records to a purchaser of your animals. (Alberta Agriculture's new cervid inventory system will have the option for deer/elk producers to update their government records electronically over the Internet). If you are using computerize records, remember to back-up, back-up and back-up your data files! You can't afford to lose them!
If you don't have a proper records management system in place yet for your deer or elk farm, don't procrastinate much longer. Sooner or later you will need to have such a system in place - so you better do it soon!