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Ranching Information on the Web

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Each day, we are flooded with information about different products, management practices, or production procedures. To keep from missing opportunities, yet keep our sanity, we must become better users of information.

Due to the increase in internet users and their recent questions about agricultural web sites and how to access them, I thought it would be a beneficial and informational subject to cover.

Information use and transfer will continue to involve using the Internet and the World Wide Web. An around-the-clock link to the outside world and a sea of information offers producers valuable information from anywhere.

With increasing emphasis on operational efficiency, many farms and ranches worldwide will take advantage of this tool. Each day an increasing number of operators use the Web to make purchases, check cattle markets, and obtain information. In many cases, this tool might provide the information necessary to remain competitive in an ever-changing marketplace.

Why is the Web Important?
It seems time is the limiting factor for most producers, whether they want to explore new ideas and try new production practices, or maybe just spend more time with their family. Time is a precious resource we must use efficiently and wisely. The Web provides us with many opportunities to gather information or place orders conveniently and quickly from the comfort of our home or office. It gives us a visual presentation of photographs, magazines, and many other items, which allows us to look without leaving our homes. It offers a vast database of educational and reference materials that can be invaluable in decision making.

How to Get Hooked up to the Web
To get hooked up (linked) to the Web, you need four items: First, you need a computer. Although most computers will work, one capable of running at least Windows 98 with 32 MB RAM would be best. Second, you need a modem to connect your computer to a phone line. The speed of your modem is referred to as "bits per second," or "K."  You should look for a modem with at least 56K. The third item you will need is an Internet service provider, or ISP. Most of the time, especially in rural areas, you will get a better deal from a local ISP. When you are shopping for one, ask about prices, especially if you plan to use the Web often, the kind of support staff available, connectivity rates at peak times, and the modem speed their equipment will support. Many of the rural telephone companies provide this service for their customers, charge about $20 a month, and give either unlimited hours or a large monthly allotment. The best way to find out about local service providers is to ask people who use their services and see whether they like it or not. Fourth, you need software for your computer. Most commercial providers give program disks that work with their systems.

How to Use the Web Efficiently
You will need a browser, software that retrieves the Web pages and displays them on your monitor.  The most popular browsers supported by most computer platforms are Internet Explorer and Netscape. You most likely already have one installed on your computer or you received one from your ISP. After you have started your browser, select a search engine.  Some of the search engines available include Yahoo, Infoseek, AltaVista, Google and Lycos. They use either an index or directory approach to search. The index approach looks for topics that match your keywords, which could provide you with an overwhelming list of links. The directory approach begins with a general topic and allows you to get more and more specific. Each of the search engines has positive characteristics, so try several of them and see which best suits your needs.

One of the best characteristics of a browser is its ability to let a user mark spots, called bookmarks or favorites, and add them to a list of sites you might wish to revisit. The best way to view them is as reference lists that can be immediately used without your having to search the Web.

What is Available on the Web?
A sea of information and educational materials is available on the Web. You can find extension publications through Web sites of many land-grant universities. Most of their fact sheets and research data, as well as proceedings and schedules of events, are available for reading or printing, complete with photographs and graphics. A majority of our government entities have Web sites (i.e., IRS, USDA, and NRCS) with information as well as forms and publications. Beef producers can contact their regional and national cattle organizations.

The Web also offers access to commodity markets. The USDA provides market information through their Agricultural Marketing Service. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade also have sites you will want to visit. You can also subscribe to many other market-reporting services. The Web sites designed to report the weather could be reasons for using the Internet because several sites provide forecasts, charts, and satellite photographs, which are valuable resources. Many companies have their own Web sites with company and product information, as well as research data. These sites are being used more and more every day to place orders for products.