PROGRESS: Cattleman’s handheld computer simplifies records


MOUNT VERNON, Ohio – In the grassy fields behind Marwood and Cindy Hallett’s Knox County ranch, 30 head of crossbred cattle and calves graze.
In the roadside pastures, 20 Arabian horses and foals gallop circles.
In Marwood Hallett’s shirt pocket, 1,600 business cards, 50 file folders with livestock records, and a clock marking the time zone in Ohio and Ghana, Africa – a recent vacation spot – deliver details that keep his farm running.
The records and data all live inside his Palm Tungsten, a handheld device that allows him to have instant access to farm and personal records anywhere, anytime.
For this cowboy and on this ranch, this tool is as important – and as loved – as the horses and cattle.
* * *
Bonnie, a Paint mare.
Born 3.15.94.
Bought 3.9.04.
Treated with Ivermectin 3.9.04.
EquiMax, 5.29.04.
Safe-Guard, 12.8.04.
Look into the treatment records to find the drug’s lot number and expiration date, in case there’s any problem or recall from the manufacturer.
When did we last worm her? We’ve definitely done it since last December, Hallett figures.
He taps the bottom corner of his Palm’s glass screen to scroll down this mare’s electronic record.
Ahh, yes, he says. Records say there was a combination treatment 4.29.05.
This mare is healthy and up-to-date on her treatments. He’s got the records to prove it.
* * *
Five or six years ago, a cutting-edge colleague of Marwood Hallett’s stood before him and punched medical data into a palm-sized computer. That man, a hospital administrator, had no ties to agriculture.
Yet Hallett began thinking how the tool could be used on his Knox County farm.
He quickly bought his own model and started using it to keep notes on the herds.
Today he says he’s hooked and can’t live without it.
* * *
Hallett chose the Palm Tungsten model and has upgraded a handful of times.
Once was after he fell on his bed-and-breakfast home’s wooden steps, crashing down onto the handheld in his back pocket. Another time, he wore out the device’s glass screen.
This one may be due to retire soon, too: Dirt and hay dust have clogged the power switch. It still works for now, but a new machine may be on the horizon.
But there are no worries when a new model comes out of the box.
Because he’s stayed with Palm brand machines and uses the tool with a laptop computer, new software recognizes all current information and updates it automatically.
He pops the new handheld’s software CD into his laptop’s computer drive, connects a cable from the computer to the digital tool, and hot-synchs the two.
Hot-synching – when the machines are linked by a single cable – allows the handheld machine to function as a computer on the go. What records are in the computer are also in the handheld and vice versa.
He can type a document in Word on his Toshiba laptop and send it through the cable to his handheld. He can enter data in Excel and zap it into his palm-size office.
Hallett unplugs the Palm, drops it into his shirt pocket and heads out the door.
* * *
Each cow has its own record in the handheld computer. Just look for the eartag number to know which record to check out.
Red horned heifer. Paid 77 cents per pound, total $281.05.
3.27.01, 7-way shot.
5.13.01, 435 pounds.
4.24.03, calved a red and white faced bull, no problems. Calf has red on left of nose, no white feet.
At a glimpse of the menu, Hallett can see which cows he plans to cull – each marked with the letter C, – which ones have trouble calving, how big that cow’s calf was last year.
It’s useful to be able to reach that information easily when he’s horseback and riding through the herd, Hallett says.
“You get to know each animal better when you don’t have to rely on your memory to tell you all the details,” Hallett says.
He can tie the reins around the saddle horn, whip out his Palm and update records at any moment.
* * *
A heifer drops her first calf in the pasture today, and Hallett goes to check things out.
5.24.05, heifer calf born, no trouble, black with white face markings, he notes in the cow’s record.
When he and Cindy bring calves to the corral later to process and tag, he’ll build a new record for the calf, listing its weight, tag number and other details. He’ll update it through the little heifer’s lifetime.
He also keeps records for when cattle were turned out on pasture: how many head in, how many out, and an average weight.
Hay records tell Hallett how many bales he made off each field last year, how many he baled for the neighbor, and compares first, second and third cutting.
He records his farm truck’s mileage every morning, notes oil changes for his 1972 Deutz tractor.
“It’s just like that yellow sheet of paper a lot of guys keep records on. This one is a little harder to lose, though,” Hallett grins.
“And it’s not like a pocketknife. You can’t drop it in the mud, pick it up, blow it off and keep going.
“You get used to it and learn to protect it, more like a cell phone,” he says.
“And these days, who doesn’t have a cell phone?”
* * *
It didn’t take long for this 56-year-old to catch on to using the stylus, the pen-like tool operators use to tap the screen’s menus and “write” letters and numbers.
Hallett’s biggest roadblock, he says, was learning and remembering the series of strokes – and in what order they’re made – to form letters on the machine.
He doesn’t consider himself high-tech and doesn’t work any fancy formulas or programs with his Palm handheld. But this tool, he says, is an example of the way farming is going.
Working a handheld device into a day-to-day operation is easier than the old pen and paper method, Hallett says.
“It’s immediate, putting the records in. [The ink is] not going to get rained on and smeared. It’s less paperwork floating around the farm truck, and this one isn’t going through the washer,” he says.
“You can’t mess this up, either,” he says, noting he’s never crashed or locked up. “It’s not nearly as intimidating as a computer.”
* * *
An adult educator and disaster response volunteer who coordinates residents from all over the county, Hallett uses his Palm off the farm, too.
The machine’s phone book directory keeps addresses and telephone numbers for approximately 1,600 neighbors, friends, relatives, business contacts and more.
If he’s going to visit the neighbor with three children – what is the youngest child’s name? His family members, when is each person’s birthday? That congressman, who was his aide that was farmer-friendly?
He says it’s like carrying bags full of business cards around with him at all times, but having each person’s information available with just a tap on the screen.
“The principle works for anything, on the farm or not,” Hallett asserts. “Keeping [farm] records or keeping track of people, it’s the same.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!