Why Store Your Sheep Records on a Computer?
People have been keeping track of their sheep for thousands of years while desktop computers are a modern invention. Why should a shepherd bother with using a computer to store information about the flock?
I expect that you know why it is important to keep records about your sheep. By this I mean things such as the birthdates, lineage, health records, feeding practices, weights, and so on. The records help you in making all sorts of decisions about how to manage the flock.
Sheep records are commonly found in three places or some combination of the three.
- Your memory
- On paper
- On a computer
I can't argue against the first two. I encourage you to maintain those records as best as you are able. (Some people have very strong opinions about the value of dietary supplements in maintaining a good memory.) But I want to spend some time discussing the merits of using a computer with the right software. Using a computer doesn't mean that you give up the other two. You can print out a fresh copy of all of your records every three months, for example, to maintain a reliable paper system.
Finding your Information
The primary advantage of using a computer to store your information is that you can find what you are looking for. Having written records does you no good if you can't find the information that you need.
A well organized set of index cards stored inside of a box can be very effective for storing information. The information is stored. But can it be found?
Paper index cards (or file folders) can only be sorted in one way and therefore you can only find records by looking up using that known keyword. In the case of sheep records, you would probably sort the records by tag number. What if a sheep has a registration number for its breed in addition to a tag number? Can you look up a sheep by its registration number? No, not unless you make a copy of the entire card system and sort the copy by registration number.
Before using computers for their records, libraries did this for their card filing system. For each book the library card system has a Title card, an Author card, and a Subject Card. That's three cards per book. You could look up a book by any of those three pieces of information since each set of cards were sorted differently.
In practice, for sheep records, making duplicate paper records in the manner of the library card catalog is never done. If you have paper records, they are sorted in only one way and you are limited to finding records easily only if you know the tag number. Conducting even simple searches beyond this is a tedious exercise of examining each record by hand.
When the records are stored with a good software program on a computer, you can look up records based upon any set of criteria. The key is to use a high quality program that lets the user have full and easy access to their records. The following searches can be very easily done using FlockFiler (Lite or Pro).
- Find all the daughters of the ram with the tag #0355.
- Find all the sheep born here in the year 2003.
- Find all non-white sheep.
- Find all sheep born as a single.
- Find all non-white singles born in 2003 to the ram #0355.
As you can see, searches can be general or highly specific. The goal is to let the strengths of the computer do the difficult or the tedious work for you. A well designed database program lets you ask questions and get answers from your records to an extent that is not feasible in a paper-based recordkeeping system.
Handle Lots of Information in an Organized Way
Your memory or your paper system can be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information that you may keep over time. A proper computer database can store effectively unlimited quantities of information. You won't have to keep buying additional boxes for your card files, additional 3-ring binders, or additional file cabinets. (Or, for those of you who never write anything down, you won't have to consume ever larger handfuls of brain-enhancing pills.)
Even if you don't breed year after year and generate more and more records of your lambs, there is the growing accumulation of health and maintenance records. Having a convenient place to store every piece of information about your sheep removes a lot of the hassle of record keeping. A well designed database has designated places for all of the normal stuff. And it has the ability to store additional miscellaneous information in a useful way.
By "a useful way", I mean that the information becomes a natural part of the sheep's record and can be used as part of your search criteria. If you put a note in a sheep's file that says "Discovered that Fluffy likes raw peanuts in the shells.", you can search later for any sheep with "peanuts" in any of its notes. Even your free form notes are easy to find again.
Unless you are in the habit of typing your printed records, most of the paper records will be hand written. Some people have very neat writing. But some don't. (I don't.) Paper records are not much use if they can't be read. Often the records need to be read by others besides the person who wrote them.
A computer solution can assist by being clear and legible. Printed material from the computer will be typewritten, well formatted, and consistent from record to record. Not only is this easier to read, your records look more professional when you share them with other shepherds.
Make Copies Easily
Computer records can be easily printed onto paper or copied to another computer. You won't have to worry about having only a single paper record that could be destroyed in an accident. You can make multiple copies of the computer information and keep them in safe locations. You can print out records to keep a redundant paper copy. When you sell breeder sheep, you can easily provide the new owner with complete records of that sheep on paper and/or a computer file.