Gordon, Ne.-based beef producer Open Range Beef has significantly strengthened its traceability profile through the use of AgriWebb, a cloud-based livestock management software that enables accurate, detailed information collection down to the individual animal.
Progressive ranchers like Open Range Beef are using AgriWebb and other software suites not only for traceability, but also to measure and track things like grazing plans, record veterinary treatments and track growth, said Tim Goodnight, Open Range Beef’s vice president.
“It’s a complete record of the animal’s life,” he said. “We know details about the animal’s genesis – farm, breed, genetics through all grazing activity – to results when it goes to harvest: carcass size, yield, and quality measurements like marbling, ribeye size, and fat cover.”
With that depth of data, Open Range Beef can use the AgriWebb platform to measure the result of regenerative agricultural practices on the ranch and to track animal health and performance from birth to harvest.
For Open Range Beef, traceability goes beyond knowing where its cattle have come from and when they go to harvest, said Pete Lewis, the company’s chief marketing officer.
“It traces the entirety of activity, including which pastures they grazed on and for how many days – and critically, how much weight they gained over their lifetime and what the end result was in terms of size, but more importantly, quality.”
That gives Open Range Beef an intimate knowledge of performance, Lewis said – specifically, what produces the consistently incredible flavor, marbling, and tenderness that its USDA Organic, 100% grass-fed beef is known for.
That knowledge, Lewis said, is power.
“The power to constantly be improving our quality, to be excellent stewards of our land, and to actually build measurable soil value over time. It’s also the power to help our partner ranchers be better producers as well.”
Covering all the bases
All animals in Open Range Beef’s Spring Lake Ranch program have EID tags that can be read by hand-held wands out on pasture and with scanners at the plant, Goodnight said.
AgriWebb receives the data and creates a record for each animal. That allows Open Range Beef to ensure traceability through every aspect of production, but also to record and measure the performance and health of each animal.
AgriWebb also has grazing planning tools that not only help Open Range Beef create a grazing plan, but also records in each animal’s record which pastures it grazed on and for how long.
“Combined with weighing the animal at points throughout its life cycle, we can more deeply understand how our grazing plans are affecting performance,” Goodnight said. “We can also measure the impact to soil quality and plant diversity by attaching measurements we gather on soil nutrients and pictures of the pasture’s plant species diversity before and after grazing.”
Ultimately, he added, Open Range Beef’s cattle are the best tool the company has to protect and enhance the soil, which is the factory that grows the feed its cattle forage on.
That has helped the Nebraska Sandhills where Open Range Beef’s cattle are raised remain a rich grassland, as they were when millions of buffalo roamed there.
“We’re building a scalable model with current and future rancher partners that will provide supply of the world’s best USDA Organic grass-fed beef to customers and consumers on a year-round basis that has consistently excellent flavor and tenderness,” Goodnight said.
On the same page with retailers
Buy-in from Open Range Beef’s retail partners on the company’s traceability efforts has been crucial, Lewis said.
“Our retail partners like Kowalski’s, Heinen’s, Bristol Farms, and Eataly have been on the forefront of offering product that highlights what the modern, progressive consumer cares deeply about: traceability, animal welfare, natural diets like grass-fed, and the exclusion of artificial growth promotants or the use of antibiotics to offset the stress and negative health impacts of the typical massive commodity feedlot.”
Those retailers, Lewis added, understand that offering traceability is the foundation of trust between them and their customers. What sets Open Range Beef apart from other providers is the level of traceability and control the company has by being both the rancher and packer, and the fact that its traceability efforts are not just about tracking movement.
“The Power Of Meat (industry report) has shown consistent growth in traceability’s influence on consumers’ purchase decision over the years,” Lewis said. “The millennial family is the dominant meat consumer, with Gen Z now also getting into their family years. Things like organic, grass-fed, traceability, and animal welfare are native to them and for a large and growing portion of those consumers is viewed as an expectation, not a request.”
Open Range Beef spends a lot of time at the store level educating its retail partners’ meat teams about how Spring Lake Ranch is different, he said.
“They’ve seen a lot of different grass-fed offerings over the years and to be honest, they typically are not expecting the kind of eating experience that Spring Lake Ranch delivers. Sharing the product with them opens the doors to telling them our story, so they can share it with their customers. They are the greatest meat salespeople in the world, and it’s our job to enable them to sell us with confidence and knowledge.”
On the consumer front, traceability will also be a consistent theme in Open Range Beef’s consumer communication stream. Whether that’s social media, influencers, face-to-face at retail and consumer events, or on its website, traceability is how Open Range Beef can earn trust with the consumer, Lewis said.
In the beef industry, traceability isn’t always easy to do successfully, Goodnight said.
“The issue comes down to scale. The larger the scale, the more challenging it becomes to keep records accurate as animals change hands.”
Many animals can sometimes change hands three or four times between birth and harvest. That complexity quickly becomes exponential, Goodnight said.
There are, for instance, more than 2,000 feedlots in the US that hold at least 1,000 heads. Some have 10 to 20 times that number in one large facility.
“Cattle move in and out of the feedlot daily and may travel to many different packers. Also consider that some large-scale processing plants measure their throughput in heads per minute and operate multiple lines in one facility. Overcoming the issue of complexity from scale is something for the major feeders and packers to solve if they truly want the kind of traceability we have.”