New technology

When most people think of shepherding, they rightfully think of sheep, perhaps a working dog or two, big blue skies and rolling green pasture land. They don’t generally think about computers and software programs! Yet with the responsibility of keeping a flock comes the responsibility of monitoring bloodlines, health, fiber and lamb production, and the like. All of that monitoring is made easier in this day and age using computer hardware and software; and as in our everyday lives, what is available is constantly changing.

My record-keeping was not nearly so high-tech when we purchased our first sheep. It involved a spiral-bound notebook and any one of a number of writing implements. I soon realized that pencil doesn’t show up well on aging paper, particularly after it has been exposed to the elements, and the ink from pens may bleed if the page happens to meet a bit of water (which is not uncommon with outdoor flock care). It wasn’t long before I decided to use a spreadsheet computer program and began recording everything important on a whiteboard in the barn. With this method, I could snap a photo of the whiteboard with my camera and email the picture to my account, allowing me to bring up the photo on the computer in the house as soon as I got in. Then I simply had to transfer the information from the photo into the appropriate spreadsheet.

Within a fairly short period of time, I decided that a program devoted to tracking sheep would probably be easier to manage than a general-purpose program like Excel. The first computer program that I purchased was okay, but I soon found out that the initial investment, which was quite a hit to my budget, was not the final cost of this technology. Once I had the program for a year, an updated version became available. Although it fixed a lot of the issues I was having with the original software, it was only available to those who paid a “renewal fee.” I renewed, but then I found myself in the same position the next year and the year after that. After a while I felt that I had so much money invested in this software that I hated the idea of making a change and having to re-enter all of my data. Yet on the other hand, I was also tired of feeling like my tracking program was being held hostage every year, awaiting my “renewal” payment.

I finally bit the bullet and switched programs to the one I have now used for years: FlockFiler. This program has many advantages, and I will summarize only the highlights here. First, there is a trial version that you can try online before you buy. The software comes in two forms: Lite, which is geared toward small flocks that don’t want to invest a lot of money in tracking software, and Pro, which tracks pretty much anything and everything that I can think of. (Even the engineer in me can’t find anything more to add — features, yes, but not what it tracks!) It even has customization capabilities that allow the user to monitor traits that others might not find interesting. The fee is a one-time charge; once you buy it, all updates are yours for life! Besides that, I have found customer service to be extremely helpful when needed — I’ve called on them a few times over the years when I was stretching the capabilities of the program.

With this new hardware, I can run FlockFiler at the comfort of my desk in the house...

With this new hardware, I can run FlockFiler at the comfort of my desk in the house…

FlockFiler allows me to track weight, gains over time, color genetics, scrapie resistance, fleece and lamb production, pedigrees, and pretty much anything I can think of. I first bought the Lite version, but within a year, I sprang for the Pro and haven’t looked back! I have often said that the only drawback was having this great program on the house computer while I had to record the data out in the barn. Not wanting to expose my household computer to the manure, dirt, and grime of the barn, this required my old method of double handling of the data: writing on the whiteboard in the barn, photographing it with my phone and sending the photo to myself via email, and accessing it when I arrived in the house. The system works, but I always thought it would work so much better if I could simply enter the data directly into FlockFiler while working in the barn. And this is where my lovely husband comes in.

Or use it as a tablet for data entry in the barn!

…or use it as a tablet for data entry in the barn!

This past weekend, Rick gifted me an HP Pavilion X2 that can work with its keyboard and a wireless mouse while I am sitting at my desk in the house (above) but can also work as a tablet out in the barn (right). It has plenty of computer power to run Flockfiler, email and other basic programs wherever it might be. Even better, with the right case (both rugged and washable), I can take it with me into the barn for data entry. And once the task is completed, I can bring it in and use it like a laptop computer to crunch the raw data into the information I need to guide the flock. Finally, technology has caught up with my shepherding needs and produced a product that may perhaps skip the multiple steps! With this, I can both enter raw data and run my tracking program wherever I might need it — including in the barn!

I know there will likely be other issues that arise as I put my new toy to use, but the thought of eliminating the extra data entry step is very exciting. Yikes, I think my inner engineer is showing! 😉

Skirting progress: I have completed skirting our lamb fleeces, and plan to have them ready to release to our customer notification list sometime in the late afternoon CST on Thursday, December 1. My personal schedule doesn’t allow for an earlier release because of the Thanksgiving holiday, so I thank you for your patience!

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