Over the decades, farm operations have become more and more business-oriented.

Simply being a “good producer” is not the only skill needed to remain in the business of farming, even though it certainly helps. The key to becoming a successful farmer perhaps has always been being a good producer and a good financial manager.

There are a few tools that we can utilize to help us in that department, but record keeping tools are arguably the most important group of financial management tools that we have available. There are many record systems to choose from, ranging from simple hand kept systems using pencil and paper, to technologically advanced computer systems. A good record-keeping system will provide the necessary information and provide it when its needed so that producers can better understand their farm operation.

There is a common misconception that the only reason to keep records is so we can report for tax purposes. However, records can be instrumental in planning improvements for a farm and for making correct, and profitable, management decisions.

I personally prefer physical, pen to paper, records for myself. I just like having something tangible that I can hold in my hand and look at it when I want to, although computer record-keeping systems have become more common and are generally user-friendly. Most even have a compatible app that can be downloaded to a smartphone to aid in data entry. Using a computer-based recording system minimizes the risk of losing records, and makes searching for certain variables, or information, more simple.

I ask you now; how are your records of your herd? Do you know what your average weaning weights are? Birth weights? Do you know input costs vs. profit for your farm?

You may not think all of this information is something that you want to or need to keep up with, but I want to encourage you to think about the phrase: “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Begin small with a few items that you can track easily and use to cull cows and calves. Take the information that you get from those few records and expand on it every year or two and see if this is something that you feel is helping you make informed management decisions on your farm.

Livestock producers or prospective producers can find out more information pertaining to this article by contacting me at the Jackson County Cooperative Extension Office at 586-4009 or the Swain County Cooperative Extension Office at 488-3848 or by email at kendra_norton@ncsu.edu.

Kendra Fortner is the N.C. Cooperative Extension livestock agent, Jackson and Swain counties.