Stu Russell was in Invercargill when the alert came.
The Ashburton dairy farmer was at the South Island Dairy Event (SIDE) when a message on his smartphone told him that a newly purchased heifer from the North Island had started calving, well before of the rest of his herd.
She was with a herd being wintered on kale but the alert via a telephone app allowed staff to quickly move her onto pasture.
“It’s real-time data, it’s easy to get the phone out and check,” he told a session at SIDE on the use of smartphone apps.
Three farmers spoke about how phone apps assist with the running of their farms.
The smaXtec app that notified Russell his heifer was about to calf is linked to a bolus in a cow’s rumen and sends alerts about activities such as coming on heat or giving birth.
His other go-to is FieldNET, an app that assists with the monitoring of irrigation by merging information on weather, soil moisture through soil probes, pump performance, allowing operators to adjust water application rates.
Having the information arrive on his telephone makes it easy to monitor performance and make immediate changes.
Southland dairy farmer Tracy Henderson said she and husband Steve use WhatsApp to communicate with their five full-time and two part-time staff.
She said the app allows them to post notices as diverse as observations about individual animals, infrastructure, the completion of jobs or general notices.
Having an observation or issue recorded on the app means the next person knows exactly what has happened or what needs to happen next.
“It’s an easy, one-stop place.”
The fact that communication can be via video, voice or the written word caters for everyone’s strengths.
For example, keeping a record of an activity that is centralised in the system is as simple as taking a picture of a newly cleaned farm bike, acknowledging the arrival on farm of drench or chemicals or that a backing fence has been erected behind stock grazing winter crops, to prove compliance.
Another app Henderson uses is Resolution, which she describes as an e-diary of all the data and details of the farm.
It collates details about the farm, such as fertiliser application, maps of the farm or infrastructure.
For example, if there is a water leak, Resolution provides staff with a map of water lines, allowing them to track where the fault is and repair it.
Contractors coming on farm to do earthworks or other tasks can be added to the app so they know the positioning of water lines and other infrastructure.
It also makes time recording easy.
“It’s piece of mind having everything in one place.”
Being compatible with Lead with Pride and FarmIQ adds to the usefulness of Resolution, she said.
“We had an audit by OSPRI and we had all the information in one place.
“Pretty much any information you want recorded is there. I liken it to a large filing cabinet.”
Luke Templeton, who farms near Riverton, uses HALO farm’s effluent monitoring system and said it provides instant information and alerts by text of faults with water schemes and systems such as with their vat.
“It has saved us multiple times, for example the paddle not turning.”
Another app he uses is MINDA, which provides instant online information and monitoring of tag numbers, preventing a doubling up and simplifying the process.
The programme can be extended to include details on individual animals, and Templeton said this season he is adding body score information.
He said staff enjoy working with apps as they make their job easier and reduce the risk of error.
If you want staff to do more, he said, this gives them the tools and power to enable that.
He welcomes the ability to book space online with meat processors for bobby calves but would like it extended to cull cows.
Henderson said when considering an app, it needs to fit the team and the farm system.
“We find the more you use it, the more you empower your staff and the more we get back.”