Ditching the floppy disk: ILRNext software by ABRI promising a big step-up in capturing breed performance data

Written by Laura Cannon, Pivot Design, Feilding


With advanced technology now available to us at our fingertips, reverting back to old, outdated technology certainly makes for an interesting time. The current International Livestock Recording (ILR) database was created in the early 2000’s, with minimal updates implemented since. On October 17th-19th, 2023, ABRI held a 3-day ILR Co-design conference in Armidale, Australia to address the current system and the need to enter a new chapter in capturing data through a brand-new software development coined ILRNext. Over the 3 days they worked with stakeholders and breed society members to map out the future state of ABRI’s breed registry, aiming to ensure it would be fit for purpose and meet the needs of their clients globally, 


Performance Beef Breeders (PBB) invited Tawanui Hereford stud breeder Janelle Downs to attend the conference alongside PBB Registry Manager Samantha Brosnahan. With several breed society staff from across the world attending, having a stud breeder such as Janelle - who uses Internet Solutions (the interface of the ILR software) as part of her breeding programme - attend was imperative in providing a different angle as one of the end users. Janelle and her husband Lance own Tawanui Herefords on 5000 acres in Taranaki, running 100 registered Herefords, 200 commercial Herefords, 300 commercial Angus and 8000 ewes. Tawanui Herefords is too big to be recording breed performance data via paper, but also too small for a recording software, so they rely heavily on Internet Solutions to submit their data, making Janelle the ideal breeder to attend the conference


Walking into the conference, Janelle was unsure how the next 3 days were going to pan out. As the sole stud breeder in the room, she wanted to ensure the new system would not just focus on meeting the needs of breed societies, but also those who utilise the database on the ground as part of their day-to-day running of a stud farm. “The current system is prone to human error due to double handling, and no longer meets the needs of today’s farmers” says Janelle. “Anytime we require changes to our breeding data we are reliant on the PBB Registry team to update data and fix errors, and any uploading we attempt ourselves on Internet Solutions involves a complex and time-consuming process through an old, clunky system with multiple hoops to jump through. This makes it inefficient for everyone, but especially those who are time poor and in today’s world require a system that allows to them work on the go while in the yard or out on the farm. It’s like going back to floppy disks every time we use it”. 


Despite any trepidation, there was an overall sense of excitement as the co-design conference kicked off. Day 1 involved getting to know one another, understanding the key users for ILRNext, design principles, and mapping out jobs onto a roadmap. Key design principles discussed included keeping the new software simple, prioritising the experience of members (farmers) as the end user, building intuitive and efficient workflows, and providing a self-service platform. User personas identified included commercial, dairy and beef farmers, breed society staff and Genomic experts. A crucial point identified was the underpinning characteristics, needs and jobs of each persona, and how the new software would need to reflect these. 


Day 2 focussed on concepts and vision, and for Janelle the highlight was the introduction of a new app design, arguably the biggest game-changer in developing the new registry software. While still in the very early concepts of development, the new app will allow users to manage their herds on the run, and be proactive in uploading, navigating and utilising their own breed data without the need to constantly rely on registry teams. This will reduce the need for double handling, improving accuracy and efficiency, and freeing up valuable time for farmers, breed society members and registry teams alike. For Janelle, the idea of being able to input data straight into a mobile app, rather than creating handwritten notes and transcribing them onto a computer software sounds appealing. “I love the idea of being able to quickly update our breed data ourselves while out on the farm” she states. “Handwritten notes are prone to getting lost, and it takes up valuable time copying them onto Internet Solutions, so ABRI noticing these flaws and working to address them is ideal”. 

ABRI are focussed on creating a future-focussed user-friendly system, and are looking into producing both a desktop and mobile app design that provides end users with services such as a farm overview, billing, trait management, analytics and breeding inventory.


Day 3 explored genomics data and visualising it within the new system. Dr. Brad Cook was a guest speaker, and discussed expanding beyond Breedplan Evaluations Results (EBV’s), to incorporate other breed evaluations into the new system. Both Janelle and Sam (PBB) believe this a great idea. “It’s silly looking down one barrel” says Janelle. “Farmers are more concerned with what will offer the best option, and if ABRI keep all their eggs in one basket and don’t evolve, they risk falling behind”. ABRI have expressed that they are willing to create pathways for evaluations such as IGS and Bolt, and make data sharing an easier process for all users. By doing so, ABRI aim to stay relevant against other companies, maintaining adaptability, flexibility and resilience in an evolving technological world.


When asked her thoughts on what happens behind the scenes at PBB now, Janelle’s expressed her surprise when she realised how time consuming and complex managing performance data currently is for the Registry team. Unlike most countries who have sole staff members for each breed, PBB provides services and support for all breeds throughout New Zealand, ranging from Registry and DNA, through to Graphic Design, Finance and Administration. Each breed has their own rules and regulations to adhere to, meaning the scope of knowledge Registry requires to manage and support each breed is immense. “Not every farmer understands the scope of knowledge and depth required to understand each breed and their needs” she exclaimed. “Add in the current software that doesn’t meet todays’ demands, it’s no wonder how time-consuming data management is for the PBB Registry team”. 


PBB Registry Manager Sam Brosnahan is in the same boat regarding the game-changing advantages this over-due software update will bring. “The team and I are looking forward to having time to help breeders analyse their herds with the data they have submitted, rather than fighting the database” she states. “This will free us up to put our time to where it matters most, such as creating reports to support breeders with future breeding decisions. It is a goal of ours to increase the performance data that is currently submitted across all breeds, and by ABRI working to remove those barriers that delay farmers getting data from the farm and into the database efficiently, it will make our goal attainable”. 


ABRI’s approach is anchored in bringing members and societies to the forefront, and are developing an Early Adopter Programme for testing and validation. They hope to release a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) mid-2024, with each new release thereafter adding various functionalities. This will cumulate towards the first full release early 2025, with the goal of having all clients in the new breed registry by the end of 2025. For Janelle, she walked away feeling confident in the future of ABRI and its ILRNext software. “It was awesome to see from both ends” says Janelle. “It’s future focussed and encourages expansion and innovation on how we manage our performance data.”


“It’s much bigger than people realise.”