Stock theft drives Wyangala farmer to develop a handy app for producers

Published: January 2020 I By: Chris Pearson

After 1,000 sheep were stolen from Marian McGann's sheep property, she decided there was a better way to monitor and protect her stock.

Sheep farmer Marian McGann on her property, with dog Blue. She was inspired to develop her app after a major theft on her farm.
COUNTING sheep, or not being able to accurately count them, led to sleepless nights for Marian McGann. In 2011, 1,000 sheep disappeared from her 2,000-hectare Wyangala property in the NSW Central Tablelands. She was a victim of stock thieves, and on a farm that runs 7,000 sheep, that’s a big loss.

Giving police accurate figures of how many sheep had been stolen meant going through a collection of old notebooks, which was time consuming and ad hoc.

Standing by the sheep dip trying to keep track of animal numbers, Marian realised the old stalwarts of stock management, green and yellow notebooks, just wouldn’t cut it. 

“We were mustering the sheep in the paddocks and drenching them, and we said there should have been such and such a number when there weren’t.” 

Other than the replacement cost of the sheep, the process took its toll on relationships. “Family disputes became a regular occurrence,” she says. 

“Instead of recording stock in a pocketbook, which would go through the wash, or just a bit of paper, I thought there had to be a better way.”

Drawing on her past life as a systems accountant at the CSIRO, Marian devised a solution, an app she named My Pocket Mate Stock Keeper. 

Digitised stock keeping, she says, is nothing new, but what makes this app stand out is that the system can be operated in the field with a smartphone. 

“You can use it for shearing tallies and comparing the mobs to the paddock counts,” Marian says. “You input the numbers when you are in the paddock rather than when you get home. It’s just a simple in/out formula and if you sell animals, you simply subtract them.”  

The user not only knows total sheep numbers, but where they are at any time. And ongoing tallies ensure that if sheep mysteriously disappear, farmers are quickly aware there may be thieves about.
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To develop the software, Marian approached the NSW government’s Business Connect, which put her in touch with an app developer and helped her secure a $25,000 grant to fund development. 

Marian has been using the app for 12 months and marketing it on her website. It is being trialled by more than 100 farmers, including an 80-year-old in Gooloogong who, Marian says, sits at his computer at home while his grandson counts sheep in the paddocks using his mobile.

In July, Marian gained further help from the Farmers2Founders program (F2F), which fosters producer-led start-ups. “Primary producers have a wealth of knowledge and boots-on-the-ground expertise,” says F2F co-founder Sarah Nolet. 

“Producers are often keenly aware of problems that need solving, but there’s a gap between what challenges they’re experiencing and what technologies are being developed. F2F is working to bridge this gap.”

There are a range of apps to count and record your livestock, so it's worth searching for the one that works best for you.  
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Mixed-cropping farmer David Ricardo from Walgett, North West NSW. 

When farmers see a problem, they can usually find a solution, and these days that could include developing a smartphone app.

An app to simplify the keeping of service and maintenance records for farm equipment, from tractors and harvesters to cars and small motors, was the brainchild of mixed-cropping farmer David Ricardo from Walgett, North West NSW. 

David developed the Farm Service Manager app after his central service logbook was misplaced, resulting in missed services. 

“This can have serious consequences on the longevity of the machinery as well as its resale value,” he says. “We have two farms 20km apart, so there is machinery going back and forth between the farms and we have a team of employees who all need to be on the same page.
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“I thought if we have an app that is an electronic version of a notebook or service logbook, then the same records can be accessed by everyone for each piece of machinery.”

Once a service or maintenance job has been logged in the app, the farmer receives a detailed account of the work done, parts used and how many hours or kilometres were on the machine. The owner can update all operators, set reminders, and export a full PDF service history of each piece of equipment.
More handy apps to help producers on-farm

  • Veterinary Handbook: Adapted from The Veterinary Handbook for the Australian Livestock Export Industry developed by LiveCorp and Meat & Livestock Australia, this app includes information on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases in cattle, sheep and goats. The emphasis is on conditions common in export animals.

  • FarmBiosecurity: An easy-to-use, free tool developed by Animal Health Australia, this app allows producers to develop their own plans to help avoid diseases, pests and weeds entering their property. Up to six family members can use this app.

  • The Yield: A free weather app that presents data tailored to growers, this app includes a seven-day ‘evapo-transpiration’, rainfall and water balance forecast to help with on-farm decisions. Information that is most relevant to growers, such as today’s conditions, are presented on the first screen, with more detailed information accessible by swiping.

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