The process of registering cattle brands in Collin County, Texas, got a lot leaner earlier this year, as the county rolled out what officials call Texas’ first online branding registry database.
Ranchers can now renew their brands electronically from home and register new marks at the Collin County Clerk’s office on a computer, instead of hand-drawing them multiple times in a ledger-sized book. The technology replaces a manual recording system that had been in place since the 1860s.
Thanks to the upgrade, both cattle owners and the Clerk’s office are saving a tremendous amount of time. Previously a rancher would come into the office, fill out the appropriate forms and then draw his or her mark three times in the registry book. Then staff would take the book apart and type — and before that, handwrite — the information into the book’s pages.
In addition, state law requires cattle brands to be on file with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), so a card would be filled out and sent to the TSCRA with the brand information for each rancher.
With approximately 350 brands registered in the county, Collin County Clerk Stacey Kemp said what was once a labor-intensive 45-minute ordeal to register one brand has been cut down to less than five minutes and county staff can now help multiple customers at the same time.
Users create a profile on the new system and can pay for their brand registration via credit card. While renewals can be done remotely from a person’s home, registering new brands still must be done in-person, so the new registration application has really streamlined the process.
“We have public stations set up in the back [of the Clerk’s office], so if we have five people come in to register a brand, we’ve got a person that can guide them through all at once, where before it was one-on-one,” Kemp said.
Additionally if cattle are lost or stolen, the TSCRA and local law enforcement can access the branding registry online and verify a mark, instead of calling the Clerk’s office to do it. The database will also automatically send an email reminder notice to ranchers 10 years down the road when their brands are up for renewal.
Kemp, who first took office as Clerk in 2007 and is currently serving her second term, said that while the manual process of recording brands had been done successfully for 150 years, she wanted to embrace technology to be more innovative and efficient, which hatched the idea of making the registry online and accessible.
The registry — which went live on Sept. 1 — was a joint effort between the Clerk’s office and Collin County’s IT department and took about a year to complete. According to Tonya Kellogg, deputy clerk in Collin County, she and Kemp worked with a project manager and developer that went into a .NET environment and created a system that merged two forms into one online application.
She said that while there weren’t too many challenges in building the new system, it was time-consuming. Staff at the Clerk’s office took the county’s brand book and scanned each page, digitizing all the registered marks. Those brands were then entered into the database with the owner’s information immediately, to make sure the images weren’t manipulated in any way.
“It took some time to do it, because we had to make sure all the information was entered correctly,” Kellogg admitted. “It was proofed four or five times to ensure the information in the fields were correct.”
Kemp and Kellogg said that the application has been well received by ranchers and they’d like to see other counties in the Lone Star State jump on the bandwagon. They revealed that discussions are being held with the TSCRA so that ranchers in those other counties could go through the TSCRA to register brands, using the same technology Collin County debuted.
Since all brand registrations are sent to the TSCRA anyway, Kellogg said the idea of sharing the technology was appealing to the association as a way of getting smaller counties that may not have the funding to develop their own online registry. She added that state-based branding registries are common, but since Texas requires that counties keep them, the technology could be helpful.
“They are talking about how to share that with all the other counties and keep it efficient and keep it at no cost to the taxpayer,” Kellogg said, adding that Collin County and the TSCRA are still discussing the details on how such a system would be managed and no decision regarding it was imminent.
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.