There’s a sense of pride, a freedom almost, when owning something and possessing the autonomy to make choices that impact it. The reason many go into ranching is no different; it provides ownership. Ownership of land and livestock, and ultimately, ownership of a lifestyle.
Unfortunately for American ranchers, a lack of ownership has been felt within the red meat supply chain. Between packer consolidation, government restrictions, pressure on prices, natural disasters, and a pandemic, it’s easy to feel at the mercy of outside forces.
But in the face of these challenges, more and more ranchers are forging their own path. The movement was highlighted in our 2022 State of the Global Farmer Report, which revealed 38.5% of US survey respondents are selling some or all of their cattle directly to consumers. Here we’d like to highlight developments making it easier for ranchers to seize control of the supply chain and regain their freedom.
Taking Control with Tech
It’s hard to manage and own your business goals when you can’t measure them. That’s why AgriWebb’s livestock business management solution was developed to equip ranchers with powerful livestock and land insights for easier decision making. By collecting day-to-day data on your cell phone or tablet, ranchers are able to identify and capitalize on their top margin-drivers and work to improve segments within their business that are lacking.
As well as improving day-to-day efficiency, you can monitor your animals closely throughout their time on your ranch. In the short term, you can track weight gains and bring animals to market at the optimum time. In the longer term, you can improve your herd genetics as you cull under performers and build on your strengths.
Importantly for direct-to-consumer marketing, AgriWebb ensures that you have accurate, up-to-date records, which allow you to tell the story of your livestock. These records make it easier to join value-added programs that will bolster the claims around your brand. Remember, traceability and transparency are crucial when selling directly to consumers.
Cutting out the Middleman
In the US, meat sold in the marketplace must be slaughtered and processed in a facility inspected by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The first FSIS-inspected mobile slaughter unit was developed in 2002 for a farmers’ cooperative on Lopez Island, off the coast of Washington State. Before the unit’s arrival, farmers had to take animals off-island for processing, and then transport meat back to the island.
Twenty years on, there’s barely a rancher who doesn’t understand how the Lopez Island farmers felt. COVID-19 shutdowns saw ranchers left at sea, with processing backlogs hitting the red meat industry. The dangers of overreliance on a handful of giant processors had never been more evident.
Now, the once-dramatic measure of using a mobile slaughter unit is a reasonable proposition that gives power back to the producer. The motto of Friesla, a Washington-based manufacturer, is “restoring local meat processing.” With complete on-site systems to handle everything from butchering to processing to storing, they give ranchers greater control of the supply chain.
Building a Brand and Getting it to Market
If you’re thinking about moving from a cow-calf operation and selling direct to consumers – perhaps even installing a mobile slaughter unit – there’s one step you should take well before you start raising capital, and that’s building your brand.
You don’t have to spend big on marketing. It’s a matter of reaching out to your local community – who will be keen to support a local business – and growing from there. You could have a ranch open day, or connect with local sporting clubs.
You’ll also need a strong online presence with a website, social media (Facebook and Instagram), and email newsletters. Through all these forums, buying and receiving your products should be hassle-free. Post-pandemic, most Americans have bought groceries online and expect a seamless transaction.
If marketing, web design and logistics sounds like too much to handle, consider a service like Barn2Door. The platform will help expand your customer base and build brand loyalty. Templates and tutorials make it easy for you to set up an online store so you can sell your product 24/7, while staying focused on the ranching work you’re passionate about.
If you’re a rancher who is seeking opportunities for ownership throughout the supply chain, consider any of the options above.