About half of you own a computer, according to the average of several surveys. More beef producers would, if they considered what an effectively used computer can do.

If you don't own one, it's probably not because of cost. Half of you would probably give away the old 1997 model in the closet that's too slow for your needs - have you tried to sell those? That unit, or a refurbished one for a few hundred dollars, could get a beginner started.

If only you had the time or inclination. Millions have discovered that once they get the inclination, they get the time from increased efficiency. Your computer-savvy friend could be the key. In many cases, generational bonds are strengthened by the turnabout of a grandson sharing his wisdom and "hardware" with someone who knows just about everything else about the world and the cattle business. Relative or not, there are excellent opportunities for two-way mentoring.

Computer use (again, according to surveys) is associated with producers more likely to use other modern technologies and methods, more willing to experiment with new management ideas. That's no wonder, since spreadsheet analysis takes much of the guesswork out of the preliminary what-ifs.

Let's face it, if you keep good records longhand, you spend a lot of time at it.

You may have years of handwritten records, or desk drawers full of printouts from other people's computers. What does it all mean? Sure, you can shuffle through the pages and look at some ciphers and products of long division. But are you missing something? Yes.

You're already gathering the information that could add value to your calves, cut operating expenses and improve profitability of future calf crops. Without a computer, you look at a few sheets that you believe are the most important, because you can't spend a week checking hundreds of pages. You rely on memory and instinct despite your years of records.

Using less time entering figures directly into a computer program, you can have historical records and interrelated data to compare, rank and sort culls or outstanding cows with a few keystrokes or mouse clicks. Expand or cull whole enterprises from the ranch based on a complete analysis. This does more than impress bankers, it gives you the confidence to take control of your future.

Many cattle breed associations have sire summaries on computer disk, simplifying genetic selection for a balance of production, feeding and carcass traits. Research before buying bulls could put your herd several years ahead of visual appraisal.

Those sire summaries are also available on the Internet, a web of millions of computers around the world that has become a resource too valuable to ignore. Information is power, and the sooner you have it, the more power you have to make the right decisions for your future. On the Internet's World Wide Web, you can check land and equipment values, cattle and feed prices and market trends, live weather forecasts and anything else that affects your business or life.

The greatest potential use of the Web may be commerce, buying and selling. Locate, price and order exactly what you want when you want it, from equipment to live cattle. Web-based order buyers, auction companies and breed associations offer livestock sales services for little or no money. Can you afford not to list cattle for sale if it's free? If you can imagine it, a search on the Web will tell you just about everything that is known about a topic, and provide further links and electronic mail (e-mail) contacts.

E-mail is the fastest growing means of communication among farmers and ranchers, with free discussion group membership for virtually every business and personal interest. These help producers develop ideas and float trial balloons for others to improve or shoot down.

You'll find e-mail particularly effective in clearly communicating details with your feeding partners in retained ownership or other alliance situations. Reports can be attached as spreadsheet files that fit into cow-calf management software programs.

You are never too old, too young or too busy to learn, but you won't fully realize that until you begin to explore the world inside a computer.