Calving on the cloud: S.D. youth entrepreneurs develop calving book app
March 2, 2017
Some people think, "There's got to be a better way to do this!"
Others, like Ellen Schlechter, simply go out and make it happen.
In 2014 the then 15-year-old farm girl from Orient, South Dakota was challenged by her family to find a digital solution for a universal ranching problem – the lost calving book. Today, The Calving Book app has been downloaded more than 7,000 times and is a dynamic, growing enterprise for Schlechter, now a senior in high school, and her cousin and business partner, Xavier Schlechter, who has returned to work full time on the family farm after graduating college.
"My dad and my cousin had been looking for a calving app on their smart phones – we have six guys on our farm and no one could ever find the calving book; it was never where it was supposed to be. But we couldn't find any apps that would work for us. They all lacked the basic features we needed," says Schlechter.
"I'm kind of the technology person around our farm but I didn't know code at all," she says. "I knew basic computer stuff, similar to what most teenagers would know."
However, she added, "Things continued to NOT IMPROVE with our calving book situation, and finally my cousin told me, 'Just go make this happen.'"
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So she did.
Schlechter said she struggled with the intense process of learning computer coding the traditional way. She was about to give up when she discovered a platform that would allow someone to fully customize an app. "I was able to write some of my own code, but it would basically create everything for me."
She started in July of 2014, and by November had enough progress to release an app. "The original app was basically just a skeleton of what it is today," she says. "We have continued to add more features and I've learned more about what I'm doing."
Today The Calving Book offers two versions – Pro, which is $19.99, and Plus, a more advanced version for $24.99. What started with the basic data fields for calving: date, sex, calf tag, cow tag, color and weight, has expanded to include options such as cow page, sire page, calf doctoring and treatment sorting, cull reports, and computer and offline capabilities. The cornerstone feature of both apps is multiple users can log into the same "book" to add to and share common records, and everything is stored on a cloud (as opposed to a hardware device). The plus version also has functionality to include weaning, preg checking and breeding records that all tie together.
"Many features were requests from people who were using the app," says Schlechter. "We try to be pretty good about making it work for everyone."
Talking with Schlechter and browsing through her blog posts on TheCalvingBook.com, where she details updates on the app, it's plain to see this young lady has a focus, tenacity and maturity of someone far beyond her years.
Sam Aesoph neighbors the Schlechters (20 miles away is neighboring in these parts) and does a lot of cattle business with the family through his ranching, farming and feedlot operation. He said he has known Schlechter since she was a little girl.
"She is very well versed in the world in any matter," Aesoph says. "You can definitely sit down and discuss anything with her."
Aesoph started using The Calving Book app about two years ago – right after Schlechter launched it – and says it has greatly improved their data efficiency. "On our ranch we have three or four different people doing tagging, so with The Calving Book app being internet based one person can tag or treat and everyone on the operation has access to that – the communication between the members on our operation is greatly enhanced," he says.
"The biggest benefit is not having to keep track of one calving book in one vehicle. Everyone has their own calving book but it's shared between everyone. It really simplifies things."
Aesoph noted the search option eliminates flipping through pages, and the fact it works on both Android and iPhones fits their operation well. However, the greatest benefit, he notes, is "If we have a problem or if we see anything we think would work better, we tell Ellen about it and she goes to work on it and usually within a week it's fixed."
The Schlechter cousins' business model is an LLC partnership managed by just the two of them and – unlike many entrepreneurial endeavors – is in the black after little more than two years. "Our company is profitable but we have also reinvested a lot – we had some lawyer fees and equipment fees, and we do put a lot back into it with advertising," says Schlechter.
Their current plans are to continue to improve and expand on The Calving Book, and they are always considering new features. Currently they are working on implementing a subscription-based service and considering new functionality such as ration management. They have also been approached by other businesses who are interested in broader functionality partnerships, which they are open to, Schlechter says. Although she says they are always willing to hear out any business opportunity, their current plans do not include selling. "We like what we do, and we wouldn't want to give it up just for money. We would want to know it would be in good hands if we ever were to sell."
Because even if the data is saved on a cloud not scrawled in a muddy notepad, these two farm kids still know that one thing is critical.
Don't lose the book.