Tech-Savvy Cowboys

Posted on November 19, 2012


Ricky Booth wears spurs and rides a horse to check on his herds. His family has lived in Osceola County, Fla. since the mid-19th century — ranching is in his blood. But Mr. Booth has a degree in animal sciences from the University of Florida and uses an app on his smartphone to keep up with cattle and feed prices.

“There’s a huge business side to this,” he told The Orlando Sentinel in an article published earlier this year. “We’re not a bunch of rednecks or hillbillies or whatever derogatory term you want to use, out here whipping cows and yahooin’ and yeehawin’.”

Mr. Booth is an example of a “new breed of cattlemen” — ranchers who recognize that technology is not going away and are educating themselves in order to harness the potential of ag-related technology. As the Sentinel said:

This is the modern cattle business, where the long-established ranching culture meets a new generation of tech- and science-savvy ranchers.

These new cattlemen look something like Mr. Booth checking his iPhone on horseback.


It seems as though every week I hear about some new technology with the potential to change ranching. A few recent examples: Some veterinarians now use portable ultrasound machines. Advanced new breeding techniques assure higher pregnancy rates. A smartphone app may soon help food producers deal with pest control on their property. Scientists are even developing genetic tests to pinpoint which cattle have potential for the best cuts of beef.

Other relatively recent developments are already being used on ranches around the country. Computerized systems simplify record-keeping on beef ranches. Genetic tracking helps ranchers know which cattle are best suited to their operation. Cattlemen can now communicate with potential customers over the Internet, reducing advertising costs. Mr. Booth uses his smart phone to text his veterinarian and feed supplier.

Forget about the image of the cowboy clinging to the old ways, refusing to acknowledge the outside world. Today’s most successful ranchers are men and women who keep the old customs that have worked for generations, yet make them even more effective with modern technology.


It’s not exactly breaking news to say that the way America consumes news and information is getting more digital, yet many rural communities are behind the times.

The fact is, beef ranchers don’t need to rely on paper reports for the very latest in prices and industry news anymore — websites like Beef USA and Cattle Network allow them to get that information on demand.

Ranchers should also get online in order to have their voices heard when it comes to agriculture rights. Many rural ranchers and farmers just aren’t commenting on blogs or online forums. They aren’t emailing their state senators. They aren’t on Twitter or Facebook.

This isn’t always the fault of those individuals. In August 2012, a report published by the Federal Communications Committee said that 19 million rural American families were still without high-speed Internet access. And — in the case of 14.5 million of those individuals — it was because Internet providers didn’t offer services in their area.

This is a major problem that must improve. But even in areas with Internet access, many ranchers simply don’t have the savvy to use the new developments to their advantage — particularly old-timers who have been successfully using the same methods their parents and grandparents used for decades. I have seen it time and time again among the ranchers I speak to and interview, and it concerns me. Will rural families get left in the dust during this transition? Will small-scale ranchers still be able to compete?


One option cattlemen should consider is taking continuing education classes. The Institute of Ranch Management at Texas Christian University is among schools offering short-term courses and seminars to help existent ranchers catch up with changes in the industry. This paragraph from the Institute’s website explains why — more than ever or even perhaps for the first time — the need for continuing education exists for the beef industry:

Experts have estimated that agricultural technology doubles every five years, and this is probably a conservative estimate by today´s standards. To put it simply, ranching operations that do not adapt to and keep up with today´s technology-driven, business-like mentality will be or have been left behind.

Just as it is crucial for ranchers to educate themselves about changes already taking place in the industry, they should make sure their children are getting that education. Rural schools need to offer solid computer classes to make sure that their students aren’t at a disadvantage.

Rather than treating new technologies with skepticism, cattle ranchers should be aware of the potential in these methods and encourage their children to explore them and get a head-start in 21st century ranching.