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Big data comes to a feedlot in rural Indiana

Aaron Ault
MAKE BETTER DECISIONS: Aaron Ault uses his own computer programs to analyze his farm’s data and make better decisions. One of those decisions was determining he could net more profit raising Holsteins vs. colored beef cattle.
This cattleman writes his own computer programs to help him make decisions about his operation.

It’s not often that one comes across a farmer with a master’s degree in computer engineering from Purdue University. It’s the first time for this editor. But that’s Aaron Ault. He raises cattle and farms in Fulton County, Ind.

“I’ve always wanted to farm, but I’ve also always had an interest in computers and wrote my first program when I was 8,” he says. “I figured I could learn to farm at home but needed to get my education in computers to learn that part.”

As it’s turned out, the two unlikely vocational bedfellows have complemented each other nicely. Ault writes most of the computer programs, which are apps, that he uses on the farm and in his cattle operation.

A few years ago, Ault wrote a program that helped him determine that he could make more money feeding Holstein calves starting at 275 pounds per head rather than colored beef calves at 500 to 600 pounds each. Part of that program also enabled him to know instantly how much he could afford to bid for new calves, based on the futures market.

Later Ault used his computer training to design his cattle handling system, essentially from scratch.

New decisions
With the new antibiotic regulations for livestock that began in January 2017, record keeping quickly became a nightmare. But Ault wrote a program that not only greatly simplified his cattle record keeping, but also became an individualized record of antibiotic sensitivity trials on each animal that comes through the chute.

In an instant Ault can pull up the animal’s entire health history, including what antibiotics have been given, when, and how effective they were. Tracking this data has cut Ault’s death loss in half.

“In these days when ‘big data’ is coming to agriculture, there are very few computer engineer-farmers,” he says, grinning. “But when I can write my own computer programs; I can come up with the questions I want to ask of my operation’s data, and get every answer I need, immediately available, right in the palm of my hand. That’s way more effective than using someone else’s program that may or may not tell me what I need to know.”

Boone writes from Wabash, Ind.

TAGS: Livestock
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