The number of apps available to producers has exploded in the past decade, making tasks such as calculating tankmixes, identifying weeds and record keeping so much easier.
Initially, iOS held a majority of the apps, but today, Android also has about an equal share of the app market. Here are some considerations when selecting apps that will work best for your livestock operation.
Apps can function anywhere from basic calculators (gestation times, tank-mixing, prices and profitability, etc.), to identification and educational tools, to record-keeping tools. Be careful of apps that primarily serve as ads.
Watch out for the online app reviews as well — check to see if the app company is a client of the company writing the article. You will have specific needs and interests. Have a checklist or shopping list with the features you need — if any of those features are not included, trash it.
Be aware of your search terms. Searching for wheat apps, for example, may pull up information on how to live a gluten-free lifestyle. For livestock, there are a lot of game apps out there. While these are fun to play, they likely will not help you with your operation.
It’s common sense, but searches can be frustrating. Think about what the most descriptive search terms might be. For example, use “pasture plant ID” instead of “weeds” when searching for weed identification apps.
Keep in mind any app you use should be intuitive. For a vast majority of apps, use the three-minute rule. If you can’t figure out what it offers and what it does within three minutes of opening the app, trash it. For GIS or mapping apps, give five minutes as those are usually data-heavy and tend to take longer to navigate. If it is taking you an hour to figure out how to use the basics of an app, it likely won’t be of use to you.
Customer reviews can be helpful in some situations. For example, if you find an app with customer comments that are being addressed, that usually indicates the company is listening and fixing bugs or improving functionality of that app. An app that has a large proportion of negative reviews posted since the latest update will likely have significant bugs that need to be addressed.
Is it worth it to pay for an app?
It depends. Some apps that charge are expensive, so make sure it has the features that you are looking for. An app that is pay-to-play should include what you need and do what it does well. Pay structures tend to vary from app to app.
Some include a one-time payment; others are subscription-based. Some offer free options with versions that come with additional features for a fee (including removal of ads). Others may charge per head. Look up the website of the company providing the app, and do some research before making a purchase.
Take advantage of free trials — many companies offer them. If you don’t see a trial period offered, it can be worthwhile to contact the company to see if there is a way to test the app before making the purchase.
Always check the update history. Initially, there were a lot of apps on the market, especially by land grants, but many have since been upended by updates in both iOS and Android systems. Apps you pay for should have regular updates. And make sure you have enough space and memory on your phone to handle the app, otherwise you may experience frequent crashes. GIS-based apps, for example, tend to have higher memory usage and storage requirements than other app categories.
Ask ‘Who owns the data?’
Data collected in apps can be stored directly on your device, in the company’s cloud, on a mainframe, or on all three. Read through service agreements. Most companies don’t want the hassle and will separate themselves from the data. Some will use data for marketing research and to better sell you something. A service agreement should state whether data will be shared or sold.
Don’t use apps as a crux. Know the general math behind calculators, and double-check plant identifications with a good field guide. Plant photo identification apps have come a long way in the past decade and will usually narrow the search to get you into the correct genus, but identifications by this method are not always 100% accurate.
Lastly, many websites that don’t take up space on your phone can be bookmarked to your home screen, functioning similar to downloadable apps. Universities often have a lot of great information in online databases that can be accessed quickly this way.
For a list of apps relevant to livestock producers, check out go.osu.edu/beefcattleapps. Keep in mind this may not be a complete list of apps available as new ones emerge on the market frequently. We are not recommending any particular app. Remember, everyone has a different situation, and making a checklist for your needs will ultimately dictate which app will work best for you.
Lyon is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension educator for Jefferson and Harrison counties and a member of the OSU Extension Beef Team. Arnall is with Oklahoma State University Extension. The Beef Team publishes the weekly Ohio Beef Cattle letter, which can be received via email or found at beef.osu.edu.