FileMaker Go Solution Drives Cattle Feed Firm into the 21st Century
Custom Mobile App Puts iPads Out to Pasture (Literally)
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.
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.
“That’s freaking awesome!”, eXcelisys developer Rob Poelking said after learning that Penny Newman had won the award based on work he had completed. eXcelisys was pleasantly surprised to find that the CowBos app had won an award when the discovery was recently made by one of its Internet-surfing staff members.Rick Middleton served as the eXcelisys account manager for the project. He reports that the software solution has helped Penny Newman corporate by giving it an edge as a sales tool in the competitive liquid-feed market. “They can pitch it to distributors — we have a tool we use — you don’t have to figure it all by yourself.”
The app is kind of a cash cow. It has increased sales for Penny Newman while decreasing administrative costs for dealers. As reported in Feed & Grain magazine, the new technology has boosted sales, improved billing and led to more accurate food supplement recommendations.
For eXcelisys, the CowBos solution was challenging — but in a good way. While working on the project, Poelking learned that he really does like math. Through the complex algorithms that had to be written into the program, Poelking discovered the power and elegance of mathematical formulas. He said that working on the CowBos solution has prepared him to tackle future eXcelisys builds that involve brain-busting formulas and he’s eagerly awaiting his next mathematical challenge.