Online games are often stereotyped as violent gun-toting unfeeling voids for kids to spend far too much time on. There are alternatives – and one I’m going to tell you about here could be used in homeschooling, is used in ag programs and is also a challenge for adults. It’s a game where it doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 51 – there’s equal chance to accumulate sim dollars, breed cows, sell steers to market and maybe – just maybe – get the illusive price of Grand Champion steer at something like the Texas State Fair or the Simsteer National. And you can do it all without leaving your desk.
Of course online games don’t give the whole experience. You don’t have to get up in the middle of the night when cows get out; there’s no icy water troughs to thaw or early mornings grooming animals with the hopes of winning a prize. There’s no high fuel costs or scraping pens or dealing with manure. But it’s not to say there isn’t a challenge.
Basic players can play for free – you have up to 10 animals and start with $10,000. You make decisions from the beginning – choosing a farm name. From there you get to pick several starter animals, which usually at this point are not very good but can be sent to the market and boost your income. Basic players are allowed to breed one cow per week. You make all the decisions, but as a free player you are not entitled to some parts of the game reserved for premium players who pay to play. Still, for someone wanting a taste of the business there are a wide variety of players from those who show in real life to cattle breeders to those who aren’t on a farm right now but have been to those who just think it’s a cool game.
You make the decisions – what kind of feed do you want to feed them? Do you sell your starters and get steers (which count as half a unit) through the auction to raise? Do you bankroll your precious dollars on a couple of good animals? Opinions vary…decisions vary and that is only the beginning of the game. You can pick certain breeds, you can crossbreed for market animals to get some money coming in but ultimately the game has one goal – raising and showing steers. Cows and bulls may also be shown.
Of course like any game there are rules. Once you learn the basics you may wish to become a premium player, which is a very reasonable fee. Becoming a premium member can be payed with a credit card or PayPal for instant access – or there is available a form to print to mail in. A one month subscription is $4.95; three months $14.75; six months $24.95 and a full year for $39.95. This is for an individual account. For families up to five accounts can be maintained at prices of $19.95, $49.95, $89.95 and $149.95 respectively. This is an affordable way for several members to play.
The decisions are many – all up to the individual. If you get a popular breed, such as Angus or Maine Anjou, typically the cost for good animals is higher. However, once you get the basics down, and get some decent stock with some money built up, it’s not uncommon for established players to help new players with stock. As a premium member you have access to many more options – you can use artificial insemination, embryo transfer, buy animals privately (basic players are limited to purchasing at the auction) and you have a higher limit – up to 100 head of animals. Players going over 100 head pay an administrative fee (in sim dollars) each day they are over 100 head.
Some basic guidelines – cattle must be a month old or more to breed. There will be a note on her page when a cow is in heat – with a yellow dot indicating recently ‘calved’ and a green one indicating a rest period between breedings. Cows can be bred individually, you can put a few cows in a pasture with a bull, you can breed artificially with semen (and not have a bull at all), or you can breed her, immediately “collect embryos” and implant those embryos into green dot ‘recipient cows’ who foster the pregnancy and hopefully give birth to a calf a week later. You name your animals – which can be names or, as some players opt to do, use a numbers and letters system. Sometimes cows lose their calf or the calf is ‘born dead’ – a set back just like in real life.
There is a forum and a chat room to help players with questions and get answers from other players. You can learn established breeds or use those breeds to develop crossbreed animals. For example, you might have Angus and Brahman – and use those to create brangus as well. You can have red Angus, or Charolais, or Herefords or Shorthorns. For the purpose of the game each animal is assigned certain traits. And as in real life you want to maximize those good traits. The judges have different likes – one might use a certain animal way down the line while another uses him as breed champion! There are many decisions to make – the game involves some strategy.
Large popular breeds are going to be tougher for new players than smaller breeds. For example, a player might get Brafords or Charbray or Simbrah and really be able to do well in that breed. You’re competing against other players, against players in that breed and with your own personal benchmarks. Generally speaking, no matter what breed – ideal legs are 8, frame is 7 and high capacity and neck scores are important. Like real life, the perfect sim cow hasn’t been created yet – so there’s a challenge there too! Based on beef cattle, the muscle is another consideration so high scores on that is also important. There are over 30 breeds and a chance to learn some about color genetics and other issues.
Started in 2001 Showcattle.com also offers an ag program for teachers and have integrated the program into classes. This can teach many skills, decision making and basic things before a youth has a live cow standing in front of him waiting to be bred. The decision making process is important on any ranch or farm – and in life itself. It is based on reality but losing $5,000 in sim money isn’t nearly as bad as losing $5000 in real money.