Smittie Smith, RanchHacks, helps ranchers with technology use on the ranch. Photo courtesy of RanchHacks.

Information technology can increase ranch profitability and efficiency, but not every livestock producer is aware of how technology can help him run his operation.

In addition, many are unaware of how to keep the office computer/Internet or smartphone/smart tablets performing as they should.

Smittie Smith, owner of RanchHacks, has worked for more than two decades in the top computer software and electronics industries.

Smith worked for both Apple and computer startup companies in the Silicon Valley, and also spent time in the military serving his country.

In the last few years, he moved with his family to Dillon, where he is helping livestock producers learn how to be more profitable using smartphones/smart tablets and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones in the pasture.

Smith wants to change the fact precision ag focuses more on crop producers than livestock producers.

“From 2000-2004, precision ag really took off in agriculture, especially for row crops, and if you weren’t using the technology, you weren’t keeping up,” he said. “The livestock grower never really benefitted from any of that.”

With RanchHacks, Smith works with livestock producers on whatever technology will make their operation more efficient and profitable.

Smith uses a DGI Matrice 200 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle or drone, and attached to that Zenmuse XT2. It takes infrared and visual range photos. The UAV can fly for about 20-25 minutes on one set of batteries.

He brings along several sets of batteries to keep it flying all the time.

Many producers told Smith what they wanted was to be able to find all their cows.

“We’re a ways off from that yet, but we do offer drone-based technology and can see cows from the sky,” Smith said.

Smith will be working with a ranch this summer, with the goal to do a pasture move.

“The goal is to move 100 percent of the cows on the first day,’ Smith said. “We don’t want any cows left behind.”

Producers can see the obvious cows that are left behind and are out in plain site, but with a UAV, Smith can find cows that are hidden and away from the group.

“We can then direct riders to move them out,” he said. If horses cannot go to unstable areas such as shale, Smith will use his drone to safely alert and move the cow down to where it is safer for riders to take the cow back to the group.

Smith will do that with a UAV that will fly closer to the cow to gently get their attention and want to move away from the drone. Once Smith figures out the cow’s sight of reference, he flies the drone back and forth but still keeps the stress level low to not scare the cow. He has used the technique before and it works.

Smith wants to work with ranchers to find out what other barriers they feel they have to not using the best technology on their ranch. He will come out to their ranch and help them find solutions.

Here is some information from Smith that all producers should know about technology:

- If a producer is not storing his/her data on the Cloud, they are not being safe with their data.

“The Cloud gives you a way to store that same data without going back to the office,” Smith said. “You might record your data on a smartphone. Even if you don’t have cell coverage, you can set your phone up with a way that when your phone sees Wifi, it will update that data.”

Typically, ranchers will use a spreadsheet to record cattle information. If they have an Android phone, they can use Google Docs.

For IOS devices such as IPhones, the spreadsheet version of that is the Apple spreadsheet app called Numbers.

“There are many cool advantages to making friends with the Cloud technology,” Smith said. “As guys become less afraid of it, I think it changes the way of doing business, tracking your business expenses and revenues.”

All data can be recorded in the field on the smartphone and smart tablet.

“It makes it more efficient and profitable,” he said. Labor costs are a big deal, and ranchers wonder how can I get by with one less labor man? Becoming used to your data so you can become more efficient and store it on the Cloud is a smart way to go.”

A lot of ranchers don’t have backup of their data.

“If the office files go under water, all your ranch data is lost,” Smith said. “You need a backup like putting it in the Cloud. If the data is in the cloud, your data is safe.”

Google offers G Suite and while it does cost money, it results in a cost savings.

“A lot of guys dismiss a lot of what I talk about because they don’t have cell service on your ranch. But if you have a cellphone, you have cell service somewhere, so when you get to that area, your spreadsheet data will instantly download,” he said.  

- One idea is to take a photo of receipts that will instantly download into the app on a phone called Quickbooks.

Most ranches use Quickbooks to record expenses and revenues.

“You can make a purchase at the ranch story and you buy barb wire and stacks, and take a photo of the receipt when you get them, you will have the receipt to use for your expenses,” he said.

- Smith advises producers to regularly make updates to their computers.

There are system updates and feature updates on the computer/smartphone/smart tablet.

“Security updates you want to do sooner than later,” he said. “These updates show up on your computer about once a month or once a quarter, and there are no ad campaigns around it.”

Security updates include maleware or viruses that could ruin a computer if it is not updated.

“Some don’t realize an Internet camera on the computer could get a virus. If a virus infects the camera, they can see your whole office or everything the camera can see,” Smith said.

Wifi routers are a huge target for viruses.

“Buy a new router, which does not have the problem, or learn how to manually update the Wifi router using the manufacturer’s instructions,” he said.

Make sure there is an antivirus system on the computer, such as PCProtect or bitdefender or others.

Feature updates can wait, and it is actually better to let someone else update first.

“There is need to be the first guy there. If you can wait until others update, it is better,” he said.

Feature updates are major operating system version updates, such as going from Windows 10.1 to Windows 10.2, or on an Apple phone, going from IOS 12 to IOS 13. There is usually an ad campaign around it.

A feature update can have problems, so let other people install that update first.

- When a Windows computer are purchased, each computer has a good, better, best version.

“With a Windows computers, all will work, but the best will continue to update software longer than the better will,” Smith said.

The better the CPU a producer buys, the longer he/she will be able to use it. The software will keep up with the capability of the CPU.

“The faster the CPU, the longer you will be able to use that computer,” he said. “In addition, buy all the RAM you can afford. The RAM will hold memory, and you can have more memory with more RAM.”

With a McIntosh Apple computer, a producer has no choice of CPU.

After CPU and then memory, look at the case the computer is in.

“A case that is strong and sturdy will help the computer last longer,” Smith said.

Smith has a wide array of services he can provide ranchers, from the kind of technologies they could use on their ranch, how to use the technologies available, to using technology to move cows or update business

“I just got back from helping a producer move 750 cows in preparation for calving,” Smith said. “If you call me, I will work right beside you and we’ll look at solutions. If you tell me I can’t use this technology because it is 30 below zero, we’ll figure it out.”

Smith is not looking for a monthly contract. He said, “You don’t call an electrician to change a light bulb. So what I want to teach ranchers is how to turn on their own light bulbs. You call me when you can’t do that, and I can come out and fix it for you.”

For more, call Smith at RanchHacks, at (406) 356-6327 or see https://ranchhacks.com.

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