I mentioned a while back I was shopping for sheep management software and having trouble deciding on (and finding) a product. Since I have such a small flock to start with, it almost seemed silly to need software. But, I am a software engineer, after all, so I like software to organize things. I considered using an Excel spreadsheet to track my animals, and that would work, for a while anyway. But I just saw a lot of limitations to that approach– taking multiple notes on animals, keeping track of pedigrees, and assessing potential inbreeding would not be feasible in Excel.
I finally made myself a scoresheet on features I’d like to see in a flock management software package. #1 on my list was pedigree analysis, because that’s really hard to do on paper. I also wanted “smart ware” that would figure out when lambs are due, and then convert that breeding into a lamb automatically when I enter a birth date. I would have preferred it calculate breed percentages too. Then I needed it to track things: expenses, vet treatments, birth data, sales, purchases, and info from other breeders; as well as inventories and profit/loss data. I wanted a quality user interface where it was easy for me to find all the functions I needed, and good help screens. And, I thought it would be really cool to have it mesh with my Palm Pilot on my phone, so I could collect data in the field, and synch it with my PC.
I ended up evaluting three products first: FlockFiler, ZooEasy, and Sheep Breeder’s Notebook- they all came up most relevant on google searches. But, all three fell down on some important category, for me. FlockFiler’s only big strength was pedidgree analysis (but no inbreeding analysis in the basic version), and some animal tracking; but I just couldn’t jive with the UI. ZooEasy had a slick UI and many nice features, but it did not calculate lambing dates and seemed very bird-centric. SBN was a really nice product, but didn’t do any inbreeding analysis. So, I went back to searching more, and found Ranch Manager by Lion Edge Technologies.
This product does not come up well on google, I never would have found it except for their paid google ads, which appear occasionally. This makes me suspicious of a software product, if the authors have not done adequate search engine optimization (SEO), which should be really easy for software developers to figure out. But, having nothing to lose, I requested an evaluation copy of their product as well. I was enticed by the offering of the Palm Pilot addition, which the other products didn’t offer. But this product was also $200, more than I originally wanted to spend.
I ended up really liking their product, however. It does a nice job of inbreeding analysis, and tracks everything you’d want to know about an animal. The coolest part is that I can keep track of where animals reside, and as soon as I mark a ram as residing in the same pasture location as some ewes, it automatically assumes they’re bred and calcuates the due dates! When they lamb, I can just click a button to note that, and new animals are autmoatically populated with the right pedigree information from the breeding. All making my life easy when I have many more sheep and generations of sheep than I do now!
What finally sold me was that once I entered all the pedigrees of my animals, it showed me common ancestors I hadn’t noticed when poring over paper pedigrees. I don’t have an inbreeding problem-yet, but I would if I didn’t understand these relationships and breed away from them, rather than toward them. So, I bought it.
The Palm Pilot version is really cool, too. Now when I’m in the field, I can take notes about specific animals, and input data on lambs, and synch it with my PC version later. Now that’s modern farming! 🙂