18 CALF News • February | March 2022 • CALF ANIMAL HEALTH Chuteside Manner EXPLORING THE FRONTIER OF ANIMAL HEALTH Do You Have Your CHAPS On? By Patti Wilson Contributing Editor C ommercial cattlemen can be left in the dark about the goingson in their cow herds. I am not talking about female bovines ransacking the neighbor’s cornfield in the middle of the night; I’m referring to the performance that they are either contributing to or taking away from their ranching or farming operations. While purebred associations across the board have provided a plethora of genetic information to their members, many commercial producers still struggle to keep extensive pertinent data on individual performance. That is not to say there’s a lack of availability to cowmen out there. Several programs are available via computer or tech-based methods. All the same, I see a whole lot of people who are most comfortable with pencils and paper, and I am one of them. We need assistance or guidance when deciphering which cows and bulls are excelling or failing in production. More than 70 pages of numbers in this CHAPS summary ranks one herd’s cows, calves and bulls for various production traits. Useful commercial performance data is included in the North Dakota Beef Improvement Association recommendations. My own experience with this conundrum led us to enroll in the CHAPS program years ago. It changed our cow herd for the better in a short amount of time. What Is CHAPS? Initially formed in 1963, Cow Herd Appraisal Performance Software (CHAPS) was the brainchild of the North Dakota Beef Cattle Improvement Association (NDBCIA) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension. They recognized a need to improve the beef cattle industry through direct work with producers. Their founding mission was the collection of data on cow-calf operations. In 1985, NDSU Extension assisted in developing and implementing the CHAPS software program. Kris Ringwall, NDSU Extension livestock specialist in western North Dakota, was instrumental in the development of CHAPS as it is used today. The structure and organization he provided contributes to its ongoing success. Ringwall stayed with CHAPS until his retirement in 2017. An Ongoing Evolution You can imagine the work it took to provide continual upgrades, as technology moved at the speed of light. In 2000, CHAPS took a giant leap by going to a Windows-based program. Employing the moniker CHAPS 2000, the basic program is still in use today. It monitors not only cow-calf numbers, but can also provide data on cattle all the way through harvest for those fortunate enough to receive this information from packers. Lee Tisor, research specialist at Dickinson Research Extension Center, is in charge of running the guts of this program. He works directly with cow folks like me and is a wizard at deciphering the thousands of data points provided each year. In the past, Tisor has had a good chuckle with me on his abilities to put this data to use. I personally would fill out the program on my home computer and send it in via internet. He would always call me later to iron out all my self-inflicted mistakes. A more patient man was never born. Tisor once shared that many of his CHAPS clients snail mail him papers written out chute side.Whether it is lined notebook paper or the back of matchbook covers, Tisor can translate. CHAPS has always been thought of as a program made for commercial use, stemming from the fact that most of us do not have easy access to a purebred alternative. Not so, anymore. Now, many purebred entities can use it, adding another dimension to their records. Where Has It Gone? In 1994, there were 33 herds signed on to the program, covering about 6,000 cows. The herd use topped out in 2005, with 70 herds enrolled. Cow herd sizes have grown larger over the years, with fewer producers.