Farming 5-9 with Computers

Sort of following along on my MPU interview, we are now in full lambing mode. Most jobs are 9-5 but yesterday farming was 5-9. Up at 5am and out to check sheep and the most recent set of twins untangled and out nursing at about 8:30pm, in the pouring rain. Inside and in bed by 9pm.

I had done a complete redesign of the underlying database structure in my LambTracker program and had to quickly re-write every bit of code in each management module before we used it. I just managed to get the Lambing module done before lambs arrived. The first 3 lambs (a set of triplets) won, code had major bugs, but found and fixed before the next lambs were born. Still have many other modules to fix, but that is taking longer. There is decision fatigue during lambing. I am making so many life and death decisions each day that the brainpower to deal with coding complexities is sorely lacking. Lambing tasks have to be well defined, easy to interrupt and not require me to think much at all. Yesterday I scanned 271 35mm color slides using my new workflow and got them ready for import into LightRoom in between lambs and checking for lambs.

Biggest issue so far this year is the weather, pouring rain. Rain drops on touch screens count as clicks and so I’ve had some issues with LambTracker heading off to who knows where because some rain hit the screen. A sheet of plastic wrap seems to have at least lessened the problem. Another is that in the brief sunny bits sunlight readability of the screen is terrible. Somewhere I have a picture of a Marine with his jacket over his head looking at the screen on the GRiDSE-T (that my husband designed) making his own darkened space. The display was totally unreadable in bright sunlight. It’s over 20 years later and we STILL don’t have good, color, sunlight readable displays! I really wish someone made an inexpensive color sunlight readable screen in a waterproof package in tablet sizes that runs Android. If anyone knows of something let me know.

Anyway, been in for a bit, finished breakfast and some coffee and now time to suit up again and head back out.


Just a thought: rather than a tap would some other gesture be more resistant to rain-induced false positives? A swipe or “slide to unlock” perhaps?

I don’t know how to do that when I’m trying to enter in text and numbers and the buttons get pushed by rain. There has got to be a solution, today we had a ewe with problems, once I got the lambs out I was madly trying to get the ear tags entered and lambing data in for all 3 lambs before the huge storm cell hit. Ended up with some checkboxes clicked that I missed unclicking before saving the data and had to fix the database to remove them once I got back inside. That is one reason most farming, flock and herd management handheld computers are $1500 and up in cost.

I’d love some more creative ideas, I may try to get a sample using some sort of swipe up and running just to see if it solves the rain problem. Then we can figure out how to incorporate it into the code base.

thanks for the idea.

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Do you have to enter the info at that moment?
Could you record voice notes (possibly following a script) so you could enter the info later where it’s dry?

How about a transparent bubble/cowl fitted over the device with one end open to allow a hand in? Could be bent from heated plexiglass, etc.

(Apple Pencil is run down, as always)

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I am oblivious to what needs to be entered but if its limited cant you design it in a way so you can use just a few push buttons?

Perhaps you can get some inspiration how dive computers have been designed.

I LIKE THIS! I keep struggling with ways to limit the inputs to something simple but the issue is that no matter how simple the UI is the real issue is the rain causing inputs when I don’t want them. This might work to limit the rain and leave the basic code intact.


The diving computers I know of are either slates, that take grease pencils as input or fully ruggedized devices that are far beyond the budget for a farmer.

As to the info there are a number of critical items, the first set is ID data, There are typically 3 forms of ID entered on any given lamb at birth, an EID tag that is in the format of 3 digits forming the country or manufacturer code, then an underscore then 12 digits that is the rest of the individual ID, a farm tag that for us is the last 4 digits of the EID tag but can be other formats for other flocks, a paint mark that is the sequence of this birth for us but again for other flocks may be different. Then we need the sex, (4 choices, ram, ewe, wether or unknown) rear type of single, twin, triplet or more (birth type is automatically calculated but rearing is different), whether the lamb was a stillborn (a checkbox for me), birth weight (decimal pounds) and lambing ease which has 6 possible options. I’m using a spinner in Android terminology but it’s basically a drop down menu of choices. Things that are automatically determined include the sire, the type of service and semen preparation used (AI, frozen or fresh cooled semen, Natural Cover) A lot of genetic stuff is calculated based on the genotypes of the parents, that results in notes in the lamb if they need blood samples drawn for DNA analysis and what testing they need, gestation length, birth time and date, and birth sequence of this lamb in this litter.

I’ve tried voice memos but then it takes a lot of time and effort to enter in all the data later and you miss the automatic sequencing, times and dates that happens when you do it live. I can’t make simple push buttons for things like tag numbers and weights but in any case rain presses the buttons anyway.

Final button is an update database that actually writes the data into all the various tables. This is to give you one last chance to correct or add to the info. Once updated the only fix for errors is by hand in the database back in the house. Eventually I want a correct lambing records activity that handles the issues when I enter in something wrong or forget some data but remember it later.


Not hindered by any form of knowledge of your software I would like to suggest to look at using an Raspberry Pi or even an Arduino. Both of them are small, cheap, open source and are capable of desiging a push button UI.

Either straight input or even if there is a list of options to choose from scroll up / down, enter etc.

It’s not the processor that is the problem. We have multiples of both those devices. They are great small single board computers. The issue is the display, touchscreen and the case. It’s very hard to make a sunlight readable display, a touch screen that is notaffected by rain and a case that survives outdoor environments. There are rugged Android tablets, Zebra makes one, Cipher Systems, The Earl was going to be great because it was eink but all of them are very expensive. The Zebra is a $1900 device, others won’t even advertise their prices. Our target for the tablet is less than $150 including case. That’s why we are using Kindle Fire devices right now and were using Nabi Jr. devices before that.

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If you can suffice with a menu selection input of just text an e ink display will work in broad daylight.

For weights and tag numbers I have to have an onscreen keyboard to enter the data. The others can be selections from a menu or checkboxes.

When we started the LambTracker project my husband (who designs rugged mobile embedded computer systems and handhelds) considered rolling our own computer but after a few prototypes he abandoned the idea. Since he does that sort of thing I figured he knew best why it wasn’t appropriate for this application. He does all the hardware, I just do the software, so I’m not entirely sure why he elected to go with commercially available standard Android tablets. Cost, availability, time to create and ease of use for novice/naive users are part of it but I think there were other technical reasons too.

Think of it as a set of very limiting design constraints. :grinning:


Using a cookie package prototype, and assuming you are right handed:


This won’t be of immediate help, but it seems Apple is aware of this issue and is working on a solution.

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Now if they would just open up the OS so we could attach our own bluetooth devices without their approval and FCC compliance. :wink: