Branded program aims to add value to cull cows, chance to educate consumers and producers alike

Candace Krebs
The Ag Journal
Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, upper left, and Sydnee Gerken, director of operations for a new program called Oklahoma Prairie Beef Solutions, listen as cow-calf producer Wes Givens describes the vision behind the initiative, which is based on a similar project already underway in Kentucky.

The Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association hosted a webinar earlier this week to discuss a unique new branded program that is intended to help ranchers earn more for their cull cows.

The planning started pre-pandemic, back in 2019, but has picked up steam with the sudden rise of local shopping interest sparked by the pandemic.

“We think there’s an opportunity here to improve the ability for our members to market their cull cows. Through our studies, it was determined there was a need for that market, but it’s always been a challenge to build a facility. We’re not interested in doing that,” said Wes Givens, of Arnett, immediate past president of the association and one of the founding board members for the new venture.

“What we are working on is providing producers a better opportunity to market their cows,” he continued. “There are meat buyers out there that want to buy a product like we have, from producers, where they know where product came from and one that they can advertise as Oklahoma grown.”

The new entity, Oklahoma Prairie Beef Solutions, is organized as an LLC under the umbrella of the cattlemen’s association. It is based on a similar program in Kentucky that was started three years ago.

That program is now processing close to 50 head of cows a week.

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Oklahoma has plans to start small. It will require producers to be OCA members, BQA certified and have some sort of RFID identification on the animals. Tags can be purchased for $1 a head, if needed, from Castle Rock-based IMI Global, the program’s third party verification partner.

Initially, cattle will be processed by Goldsby Meat Co., located about 30 minutes south of Oklahoma City, then go to O’Steen Meats in the city for further processing and ultimately be distributed at retail by Crest Foods, an in-state grocery chain that currently operates nine stores in the metro area.

Ranchers will be paid on hot carcass weight, based off of the weekly average USDA reported market price. They will be required to provide transportation to the slaughter facility, but the program will cover the processing cost.

The finished ground will likely sell for around $5 a pound, according to Sydnee Gerken, a recent Oklahoma State University grad hired to serve as director of operations.

“We believe it will add value to those cull cows,” Givens said. “We also feel like it’s an opportunity to promote the industry and tell the consumer what we do. And it’s an opportunity to educate, not just consumers, but producers who want to learn more about the marketing side.”

The organizers admitted they are still working out some of the details and will adjust expectations as the project gets off the ground. Producers are being asked to enroll now and get cows signed up for the program at least 90 days before they are ready to ship.

Cows likely to do best in the program should be open and have a good body condition score, said OCA’s executive vice president Michael Kelsey.

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“You need to evaluate your cattle for where is the best marketing option,” he said. “If you have some extra forage, maybe run some cows on it, if it’s economical to do that, and they will dress better, and it will reward you well for doing that.”

OCA is one of many producer organizations attempting to capitalize on increased interest in local food sourcing. Last year, the group started an online directory of ranches statewide that sell beef directly to consumers. That website currently contains more than 150 listings.