Precision farming: quality Wagyu with a local focus

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Highlights

  • Located in Laramie, Wyoming, Oxford Ranch is where Black Angus and Wagyu beef are grazed on the Laramie Plains to serve the local market.
  • With a brand promise that headlines with “From our ranch to your table,” owner-operator Kelly McGuire is dedicated to raising her animals with care and respect. She’s passionate about returning ranching to its roots and away from the factory-farmed, centrally processed reality that many Americans have come to accept in the name of convenience.
  • Kelly’s ranch is currently piloting the HerdDogg system with a view to ultimately using the HerdDogg QR code to provide transparency about her operations to discerning consumers who value knowing about where their food comes from.
Kelly McGuire on her Oxford Ranch in Laramie, Wyoming. [Credit Natalie Behring Photography]

Tell us about your journey to ranching

My family bought the ranch back in 1992. So I guess I osmotically absorbed ranching between the age of 7 and 16 as my dad grew the cow herd to about 120 head. My mom was also involved in livestock, but her passion was cashmere goats. She imported her first goats all the way from Australia and then became really involved in perfecting the breed. We competed in the National Western Stock Show every year, where she would reliably win grand champion and reserve grand champion. In fact, she became a judge and eventually president of the cashmere goat association.

These two influences—my dad’s focus on cattle and my mom’s focus on pedigreed breeding (and therefore genetics)—certainly shaped my path to where I am today. But in fact I first headed out on a completely different path; I tried my hand at mortgage origination before realizing that corporate life is not for me.

So I packed up my mortgage life in Fort Collins, Colorado and moved back to Virginia Dale in Southern Wyoming to plan my next move. That’s when I heard about Wagyu cattle. At the time, we still owned the ranch here, but it wasn’t operational; we just leased it out for grazing.

That’s when the penny dropped: Wagyu sounds interesting… we’ve got a ranch. Maybe there’s some bed-and-breakfast and agritourism potential? So back to school I went, enrolling at the University of Wyoming to study animal science and livestock production.

“When you attach a HerdDogg DoggTag sensor to an animal, the HerdDogg system immediately starts automatically collecting a broad range of biometrics data” — Kelly McGuire [Credit Natalie Behring Photography]

So you launched straight into Wagyu ranching?

Not exactly. I’d never had my very own herd of cattle, and so my initial objective was to purchase some livestock to get my business up and running. Any startup rancher will tell you that this can lead to a major case of sticker shock! Then, one day in mid-2015,  I’m chatting with my neighbor about his cattle ranch out in Nebraska. He told me how he’d expanded his herd through a cattle-share program. I thought, “what a perfect way to get my own herd of cattle up and running.”

One thing led to another, and my first herd of cows arrived in December 2015. Then a few more in February 2016. Initially, these were all black Angus and I started my first calving season with this commercial herd. I didn’t know much about the bloodlines and I was still learning a lot about Wagyu, genetics, heterozygosity, and cross-breeding. 

In 2017, I bought a couple of Wagyu bulls from a ranch out in Oregon, and so then, in my second calving season, we delivered the first F1—first-generation— cross-calf of Wagyu with Black Angus. Our objectives were—and still are—to rear an exceptional Wagyu product and to optimize genetically for the attributes that informed buyers look for: flavor, tenderness, and marbling.

“Our goal is to track and trace every animal from farm to retail, and for its animal record to be accessible by consumers in the form of a QR code” — Kelly McGuire [Credit Natalie Behring Photography]

What sets Oxford Farms apart in the marketplace?

We are targeting well-informed and discerning consumers. Our top-line brand promise is “All-Natural, Grass-Fed American Wagyu Beef! It’s the Best You’ll Ever Taste.” Of course, that sounds good, but in fact we know that our customers are looking for more than just taste; it’s the combination of the attributes that define the quality and taste of our meat and those that make people feel good about supporting us.

So that’s why we emphasize the relative proximity of our ranch and your table. Increasingly., people want to buy local. We also underscore our commitment to well-being—our animals are raised with care and respect, and are never administered hormones and antibiotics. We talk about location because provenance matters: our animals were born and raised on the pastures of the Laramie Plains and spend their time grazing on 3,600 acres of native grassland pasture.

And lastly we talk about something that really matters to consumers who care about animal welfare and carbon footprints: animal miles. Our promise is that the farthest our animals ever traveled was five miles. HerdDogg helps us deliver on all of these promises. (Visit Kelly’s store.)

Born and raised on the pastures of the Laramie Plains, the farthest these animals ever traveled was 5 miles.

How does HerdDogg help you be a better rancher?

Successful ranching requires experience and a keen eye. Anyone that has a pet knows that it can be hard to figure out what’s wrong if an animal needs attention or is in pain. Often, the first sign of a problem is something visible: maybe a change in behavior or habits, perhaps the animal is moving differently, not eating, or can’t get comfortable at rest. A skilled rancher is always scanning for these signs. 

Right now, we’re heading into winter, so when the inevitable cold storms blow through, you need to go out and check the herd. Who’s got a snotty nose? How severe is it? Is it one nostril? Both? Are their eyes watery or their ears droopy? I really wish I could go out and visually scan the entire herd every day to make sure everybody’s healthy and that nothing is going wrong. But that’s just not feasible.

As a rancher, you invest a lot of time, labor, and money into disease prevention with vaccine protocols and other measures to prevent disease in these animals. But early disease symptom detection is huge, and any help you can get here is huge.

When you attach a HerdDogg DoggTag sensor to an animal, the HerdDogg system immediately starts automatically collecting a broad range of biometrics data. Then, it starts looking for indicators and patterns that something might be wrong with an animal. That gives me peace of mind. When you’ve got maybe hundreds of animals roaming freely and grazing, you simply cannot dedicate as much time as you’d like to monitoring them.

And there are some important things that HerdDogg can detect that really can’t be noticed just by looking at an animal; the early symptoms of certain cattle diseases are pretty subtle and hard to discern. And by the time those symptoms are fairly noticeable, oftentimes, it’s then too late to turn that animal around. In the past, I’ve had issues with bloat and brisket disease that potentially could have been identified by the HerdDogg system in their early stages. 

As a rancher who’s committed to animal wellbeing, this is a crucial aspect of my business. If you lose a calf to a preventable disease, I mean, not only are you out the income of the calf, but you also have the cost of maintaining that cow that is now not able to be paid back.

Another area where HerdDogg will help is in the breeding program. Each cow’s activity fluctuates all the time, but over time the system can understand each animal’s specific daily patterns: grazing, then resting, more grazing, then sleeping. We know their activity levels and behaviors change dramatically during estrus events and of course when a calf is arriving. HerdDogg provides advance notice about crucial life events such as estrus, calving, and illness.

Let’s talk local. How can HerdDogg help?

In addition to helping me know more about my herd’s wellness, HerdDogg also provides quantitative biometric proof that backs up each animal’s health certificates. Our goal is to track and trace every animal from farm to retail, and for its animal record to be accessible by consumers in the form of a QR code.

This is especially relevant right now. Consumers have noticed that our national food supply chain is out of whack and the disruption at processing plants due to COVID. That’s why direct buying has really taken off.  

My observation is that, in the past five years or so, consumers have become more and more concerned about where their food comes from. The consumer is king, right? So all that information about our product that we provide is going to make Oxford Ranch a much more attractive candidate for their business. 

The data that HerdDogg generates holds you responsible and makes you accountable: this is where it was born, this is where it was raised, this is how far it’s traveled in its life. As a consumer, you’ll have confidence that you are really getting what the packaging says — be it at your local meat counter or direct from the producer.

What gets me excited is the idea that my customers will get more connected with the story of their steak. We can provide real information to counter all the misinformation that’s out there right now. Like how cattle ranchers are destroying the environment. This truthful information, based on individual animal data, and, available right there when they scan that QR code, will serve to combat the misconceptions about the industry—and teach people where their food really comes from.

My long-term dream: when you ask a nine-year-old, “Hey, where does your favorite steak come from?” Their answer won’t be, “The grocery store.”

[Credit Natalie Behring Photography]

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