Under Current Review: Farmeron’s web-based herd management software One of the most prominent dairies in Hilmar, California, will be testing an upstart company’s cloud-based herd management program against its long-established desktop management software during 2017.
The yearlong trial is part of Progressive Dairyman’s second season of reality user testing. The first season of the magazine’s technology test-drive series appeared in 2014.
Charles Ahlem Ranch will get access to Farmeron’s web-based software to manage the day-to-day operations of its 7,000 cows. The dairy has agreed to ongoing interviews about its experience using the platform.
For its participation in Progressive Dairyman’s test-drive series, the dairy will receive a free license to use the software for one year, about a $20,000 value.
Dairy manager Frank Dinis says Farmeron enters the test-drive as an underdog to Valley Ag Software’s DairyComp; however, he also says he’s going into the trial run with “an open mind.”
“My goal is, after a year with this new software, to be able to answer: Is the program developed enough to compare it head-to-head with our current software?” Dinis says.
During the test-drive, the dairy will use both programs side by side. Dinis will test the new program first and then will help to train other key employees later in the year.
“I love the command lines in DairyComp. For me, that is going to be hard to give up,” Dinis says. “But I’m open to a different way of doing things.”
Darlene Duarte, Farmeron’s western U.S. sales manager, says the company is excited to work with Dinis and dairy owners, Chuck and Mark Ahlem, because she says they are open to new technology, well-known leaders in the U.S. dairy industry and “very much early adopters.”
“They pride themselves on proactively looking for innovative solutions,” Duarte says. “The type of user we are targeting is people who are looking for tools to help them stay ahead of the curve.”
In meeting with the dairy’s ownership and with Dinis, Duarte says the dairy wants a tool that will “grow and innovate, not remain stagnant” as the dairy grows and moves forward.
“As an industry, we’ve got to manage cows differently than we do today. As a manager, I have to be open to the idea of doing something different to make that possible,” Dinis says.
Farmeron will provide Dinis with short training sessions – an hour or two, one day each week – for about two months (a total of about 15 hours). Each session will provide training about a specific aspect of the program and give Dinis an opportunity to ask questions about the program from his use the previous week.
An account manager is also available for Dinis’ questions as needed throughout the week. When Dinis has completed training on the basics, Farmeron will assist the farm as needed in training other employees.
One of the key reasons for the dairy’s interest in Farmeron is being able to manage all the information about its cows in one place. The dairy currently employs four different stand-alone computers at various sites to create its cow management files.
Managers use TeamViewer, a popular remote control software program, to connect to and access the different computers’ files. The dairy will assess if having all the dairies’ data in one data file improves the quality of management decisions and the speed at which they are made.
Farmeron can also track the costs of procedures done to individual cows to assess profitability of individual animals or the return on investment of protocol treatments.
Dinis will be monitoring how the program does at the “basics” – whether it can accurately track pen movements, log synchronization protocols, confirm hospital pen records and interpret the same “lingo” the dairy uses to communicate with its current program.
Because the program is cloud-based, Dinis is interested to see what it will be like to look at the numbers and metrics he’s used to seeing on his phone.
Testing the ease of using the program’s interface will also be important to him. The dairy has switched technology providers in the past just to have a better interface with technology.
The dairy has recent experience adapting to new technology. More than eight years ago, it installed a robotic arm for post-dipping cows on its rotary milking parlors, one of the first nationwide to adopt the technology.
While Dinis says the dairy is “definitely happy” with the robotic arm now, without persistence and a desire to make it work, it would have never been successfully implemented.
“Technology will fail if people don’t buy in, or if people are not well trained, or if people don’t try to make it succeed,” Dinis says. “No technology will work without focusing on the labor side of its implementation.”
Dinis knows managers and owners play an important role in technology implementation and evaluation. They have to commit to making it work, he says.
“As a herdsman, I could have sabotaged the whole thing with all of the challenges that we had,” Dinis says. “With new technologies there are going to be challenges; we’ve learned that with the robots. But we had the attitude that we were going to make it work, and we wanted it to work. We are definitely glad we went that direction now.”
Dinis says the robotic post-dipping arm not only saved labor but has also cut the dairy’s volume of post-dip used in half. The technology provided a payback in less than five years.
Dinis says the dairy likely would have adopted more robotic technology by now if milk prices hadn’t declined over the last two years.
The dairy observes the following steps when it comes to evaluating technology:
- Be aware of what’s out there.
- Have an open mind while testing it.
- Give it a fair shot.
- Watch out for employees sabotaging it.
- Be super-critical of its results.
- Talk to lots of people about their results with the technology.
- Determine its return on investment and long-term fit within a dairy’s facilities.
- Incorporate the technology into the dairy long-term.
These same principles will apply to the evaluation of Farmeron. He sees two outcomes possible at the end of the test-drive:
1. The technology passes all of the dairy’s tests, and they permanently adopt it. Dinis says if Farmeron can provide confidence it can “do what we want,” then they will pursue this course.
2. The technology isn’t at least as good in all aspects as its current software option. Dinis says if this happens, the dairy will likely shelve the software for two to three years and revisit it again then.
“We hope they get what they are looking for, which is advanced analytics with the capability to analyze trends and to optimize profitability within the operation,” Duarte says. “We want them to feel they have a new suite of tools to become even better producers of high-quality milk as well as better stewards of animal care, health and reproduction.”
Overall, the dairy agreed to give Farmeron a chance because they see the program aligns with its long-term goals to streamline herd management in one place and to improve the accuracy and consistency of herd management records.
“Although we are using DairyComp, and it’s the best program out there right now, there are some restrictions with it and where it’s going,” Dinis says. “Looking at how we are going to manage cows on multiple facilities in the future, Farmeron seems to be heading in the same direction we are.”
- Progressive Dairyman
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