The Beginner’s Guide to Keeping Livestock Records
Updated: Nov 7
When it comes to running your own business, staying on top of record keeping is a constant challenge. You may have entered the farming profession to spend less time in front of a screen, but failing to keep careful records will put you at a disadvantage compared to your competitors.
Beginning farmers often believe they can rely on memory alone, but without careful records, you’ll miss crucial details and compromise your profit potential. After all, it’s practically impossible to manage what you do not measure.
The solution? Maintain careful records about your animals. The process might feel overwhelming for a beginner, but by following these tips, you’ll better understand what’s working and what needs to change with your livestock operation.
Note: We’re focusing on cattle record keeping here, but these tips can also apply to other forms of livestock like sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and more.
Benefits of Keeping Livestock Records
First, let's highlight why livestock record keeping is important in the first place. Staying organized offers many advantages:
Allows you to track all expenses for better livestock pricing
Helps you develop better cattle breeding plans for long term herd health
Makes cost inefficiencies clear so you can economize your operation
Helps you track, control, and prevent the spread of disease
Lets you notice changes in animal welfare early so its easier to address them
Makes it possible to compare results year to year to see what’s working
What to Track with Livestock Records
Keeping cattle livestock records involves more than taking notes on each animal’s daily habits. Not only is this time-consuming, but the resulting documentation would be broad and challenging to put to use. Rather, farmers monitor their herds in key categories, so the information they collect is as relevant to the operation as possible.
Who is having babies with whom, and what traits do the offspring have? Which genetic lines should be continued?
What vaccinations or supplements have been given to the herd, and at what doses? Do they show positive results? It’s best to maintain detailed health records with dates of procedures like dehorning, castration, deworming, branding, insemination, and other livestock treatments.
Breeding Records & History
Track which cows are hitting reproductive age, whether and when they have been bred, and when their due date is.
Births and Weening
Monitor the success rates of your herd’s offspring. Which cows are having healthy babies? How long will they need to stay with their parents? You can number each calf with a brand or ear tag for easier tracking. Most farmers use a two or three-digit number system based on the year the animal was born and its birth order within the herd.
Livestock Growth & Measurements
Are your animals growing as they should? Are there signs of stunting or nutritional deficiencies? You can start by recording every calf’s birth date, birth weight, weaning weight, and yearling weight to compare from one season to another.
Farm & Animal Yields
How much food are you producing on your property? Are you seeing an increase from one season to another? Whether you’re maintaining grazing fields or crop land, it’s critical to keep records of everything from soil amendments to annual yield metrics.
Feeding, Grazing and Eating Habits
How well is your pasture space meeting each animal’s nutritional needs? Is it time to supplement their diet? Consider naming or numbering each quadrant of your fields for easier classification in your records.
Costs and Profits
Track all income and expenses for your animals. How much have you paid in food costs before a calf can be sold? Are you pricing them high enough to make a profit?
How Do Farmers Keep Livestock Records?
There are as many ways to manage livestock record keeping as there are farmers doing so. Determining the right method for you may come down to trial and error, but these suggestions should help you find success faster.
Paper or Digital Livestock Records?
Keeping quality cattle livestock records can be as simple as managing a paper page for each animal or as complex as a software program.
You want to choose the record keeping method that you’re most likely to maintain for the long term, so choose one that matches your skillset and work style. So, while some farmers prefer portable notebooks they can take with them in the field, while others would rather compile all their notes on the computer at the end of the workday.
Resources for Livestock Record keeping
There’s no limit to the ways you monitor your livestock. Here are a few popular resources.
NCBA Redbook: This pocket-sized record book includes more than 100 pages for recording everything from calving activity to pasture usage, cattle inventory, and overall herd health.
The Shepherd Flock Record Book: For sheep farmers, signing up for a subscription to The Shepherd magazine qualifies you for a free copy of its popular Flock Record Book.
CHAPS (Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software): This data-intensive record system for beef cattle organizes your information for valuable insight about the whole herd’s performance.
For more personalized guidance, connect with your local extension office. Most, like the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, which will provide free resources like screening sheets that help you assess the health of your herd and plan for reproduction.
Here is a free Cattle Record Book resource to get you started.
Manage Cattle & Livestock Record Keeping with Farmbrite, Complete Livestock Software
If you want a comprehensive system for managing your livestock and other farm animals, consider signing up for Farmbrite software. This flexible livestock management system works to simplify breeding, grazing, and tracking for cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and more.
Use it to manage breeding activity, track and understand your return on investment for every animal, and measure and report key health and growth metrics. The software even lets you automate and track tasks assigned to ranch hands.
By Lydia Noyes
Interested in learning more about making record keeping easier on your farm? Connect with us today to start your free trial.