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Computers - A useful tool

  • Jim Browne, Coffs Harbour NSW

The modern home computer is a useful adjunct to any cashmere-breeding program. Currently available software and hardware technology have put time-saving recording tools and complex analysis functions within easy reach of the innovative breeders mind and pocket.

In addition, the advent of "photo quality" colour printing technology, and the Internet, have produced an information gathering and promotion system that will find daily use.


Hardware is the general name for all the electronic bits and pieces.

The currently available, "middle of the range" home computers, running Microsoft Windows 95 (or later operating system), or an Apple Macintosh have adequate power to handle the most complex of record keeping and analysis tasks associated with cashmere production.

A wide choice of printers is available. Selection of the most suitable model will depend on the tasks envisaged.

  • For normal use - select a standard inkjet printer, with colour if required.
  • For photo quality colour presentations - a Photo Quality Colour Inkjet (or if you have the money) Colour Laser Printer. Both can be expensive to run.
  • For higher volume non-colour printing - a small office Laser Printer.
  • For large volume, low running cost, record printing - use a dot matrix printer.

If you plan on keeping a large digital photographic library, you will need a computer system with adequate storage space. This means either a high capacity hard disk (in excess of 8Gb) or the addition of a CD writer so you can store your images on CD. 1Gb of storage will only hold around 20 normal size, high quality print images, although you can fit hundreds of "screen" quality images (Internet GIF or JPG) in the same space.

Storage capacity is particularly relevant if you decide to buy a digital camera to record your progress.

If you plan on doing sophisticated colour printing work, you should consider the purchase of a higher end processor and a quality video card.


Computers are designed to use one of the several different operating systems. These can be thought

of as different languages. Application programs written for one operating system are unlikely to work with other operating systems.

The most common business operating systems on older computers was MS DOS as used by IBM compatible computers. This has now been superseded by the modern operating systems comprising the Microsoft Windows 95+/NT family, Apple Macintosh and to a lesser extent Linux. At the time of writing applications for use under Linux were limited.

These systems vary in their cost of ownership and operation. Linux is free, or nearly so, and requires much lower processing power to do the same job. It is supported by a group of dedicated enthusiasts, but there is a fairly steep learning curve.

The Microsoft Family of operating systems are mainstream and host the widest range of available software.

The Apple Macintosh system is probably the easiest to use, but it does have the highest cost of ownership and operation. There is a smaller range of programs available for Apple machines.


There are three kinds of application programs suited to cashmere breeding record analysis.

  1. A general purpose spreadsheet program. (eg. MSExcel, Lotus 123)
  2. A general Purpose database program. (eg. MSAccess, Lotus Approach, FileMaker Pro)
  3. An application-specific cashmere program (e.g. Cashstud).

The first two are general purpose programs that require adaptation to a breeders requirements. They also require an extensive knowledge of the analysis techniques involved and some knowledge of the associated mathematics.

Application-specific programs vary in quality and what they will achieve, but in general they are ready to receive information and produce results. Check with your Association to find what is available to suit your needs.


  1. Data is stored in an orderly fashion, easily reproducible in readable form by the printer.
  2. Data recording is often made easier with computer aided entry features. Pedigree information for example can be updated automatically. The computer can deduce the Sire details from the mating details and the date of birth.
  3. Data may be easily sorted and ranked and printed out in the re-arranged format.
  4. Calculation of derived data such as "weight gain/day" is a quick and simple matter.
  5. More advanced calculations such as Production Indexes and EBV's can only be done at a realistic cost by computer.


  • Ensure that the hardware you purchase will run the program you wish to use.
  • Ensure that the program you buy records, or will export, your data in a standard documented industry format. This will ensure your old data can be used as new and better programs are introduced.
  • Ensure that the program you buy has the flexibility to incorporate the unforeseen, particularly in the analyses areas. Some programs are written in such a way they will only analyse data as pre-planned by the programmer. Others provide considerable flexibility in handling unforeseen requirements. Cashstud will, for example, export its core data to any spreadsheet. This can then be analysed, manipulated, graphed and printed in an endless series of options.
  • Ensure that you record information in a consistent manner according to a well laid out plan. Remember rubbish-in = rubbish-out.
  • Record information where convenient using a scoring system. eg. 1 = small, 2 = medium, 3 = big. Scores can be averaged or otherwise manipulated. Descriptions cannot.


The following are some examples of useful information that CAN be produced by a GOOD computer program to assist breeding decisions.

  • Performance pedigrees: This is an ideal computer application. With a four generation pedigree there are 30 ancestors involved. If information is required on 12 performance characteristics of each ancestor, the computer needs to find and print 360 separate pieces, of information. The report will be more useful if the computer calculates the mean performance for all ancestors for each characteristic and highlights the highest and lowest record.
  • Automatic re-calculation of fleece values with changing market prices: This is a boon to breeders who use fleece value as a selection tool.
  • Calculation of Indexes: These are production indexes that will rank animals on your loading of different production traits. For example: The "Patrick" index aimed at assessing cashmere productivity irrespective of down weight or diameter.
  • The calculations to evaluate and combine production traits measured on different scales, such as body weight and fibre diameter, are quite complex. This is most conveniently done by a computer.
  • Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) calculations: These complex calculations aim at arriving at an estimate of an animal's actual genetic (breeding) value stripped of environmental influence. This information is by far the most valuable assessment of an animal's worth and the most difficult to calculate, manually.


With the advent of colour printers, scanners, CD writers, digital cameras and the Internet, a modern computer will find a lot of uses outside record keeping and analysis.

The preparation and printing of quality business letters, cards, leaflets and sale sheets can now be done in the home office.

Digital presentations (including photographs - and sound if you wish) can be created and emailed to prospective customers.

Technical and promotional information can be made available to the world by placing it on the Internet.

You will need some extra equipment such as a modem. You will need some extra software and you will need some extra time to learn, but the benefits should well and truly outweigh the costs. The possibilities are limited only by your own imagination.

© ACGA 2000