‘Eat like a rancher:’ Sandhills Beef Co. hoping to help producers, consumers
An engineer, a professional football player and a wrestling coach walk into a ranching community…
While it could have a funny ending, the punchline is anything but laughable. In fact, ranchers in the Nebraska Sandhills, are hoping the unlikely trio can help write a happier ending to their current anything-but-happy cattle marketing novels.
The fed and feeder cattle market have been under tremendous strain over recent months, with an extreme downturn in the past five weeks, following a packing plant fire in Kansas. As fed cattle prices fall below 2003 levels, producers and feeders are looking for long-term answers to the diminished competition in the fed cattle market, which has resulted in per-head losses of over $100 for many feeders in recent months, according to market analysts.
Jacob Wingebach, John Howell and Brian Killion have partnered together to form Sandhills Beef Company. The three men are offering cattlemen the opportunity to market their own cattle with the hopes of capturing additional profit from their animals. According to the business model proposed, the rancher would own his or her cattle up to the point of slaughter, when the beef company would then buy the animal, slaughter it and market it.
Sandhills Beef is planning to give the average rancher a means to promote their beef to a niche target market of those with a disposable income who will buy the best, the owners said.
On Sept. 8, over 70 cattle producers gathered for a tour of the clean, efficient and newly renovated Hooker County Packing facility located south of Mullen, Neb.
The Sandhills Beef Co. owners believe they are taking the concept of “ranch to plate” to a new level. They intend to harness the use of social media as one of their marketing tools. Participating ranchers will have the option to create their own “brand” on the website utilizing videos of their operation to tell their story. Consumers will be able to see where their meat comes from and can buy with confidence. The partners feel that local ranchers are raising a superior product and should be paid a premium price. Sandhills Beef Company by having different “brands” underneath the main company will have outlets for Prime, Choice and lower choice can be ground to supply the ground beef demands.
As a beef marketing outlet, Sandhills Beef Company will handle the slaughter, packaging, marketing and delivery of aged beef.
Producers will own the cattle right up until they go to the packing house, but after that, Sandhills Beef will do the rest. The eventual goal is to have feeder cattle fattened at a central feedyard. Wingebach hopes to increase his packing house output up to 10 head a day, and he has staffing to handle that number. He has the capacity to hang 100 carcasses. The company is waiting on their final USDA inspection and are hoping be in operation by later this fall.
TELLING THEIR STORY
“This is a business model, we have the facility already, I’m asking ranchers to think outside the box and come talk to me. There is a decent margin to be made on your animals by generating interest and more value by telling their story. We want to work with the ranchers who want to be engaged in their future,” Wingebach said. “We are super excited about the turnout and thrilled with how things went at the meeting.”
Some local beef outlets are well on their way.
The Chuckwagon and Jug is a popular café in Mullen. The owners Gregg and Dawn Mallory have committed to only serving Sandhills Beef. The Dismal River Club is creating its own premium beef brand under Sandhills Beef, which will be served through their restaurant and available for sale to their guests. The Dismal River Club is a private luxury destination club that offers golfing, shooting and hunting.
Conventionally processed and sold beef is not aged, so the average consumers are unable to buy “dry-aged beef” through local grocery stores. This new venture will make superior beef available to the public, the Sandhills Beef owners said. Ranchers who raise and eat our own beef often take it for granted how much better it is than what is generally available. “Hanging a carcass for 10 to 14 days improves the flavor. We will offer this ‘Rancher Experience’ to the public.” Wingebach said.
Wingebach purchased the packing house in 2014 after moving, along with his family, to Mullen. A Kansas native, he graduated from the Annapolis Naval Academy with an engineering degree. He has been offering custom meat processing since 2015. Since his move to the Sandhills, Wingebach has been talking to area ranchers about ways to market their beef. Howell and Killion are originally from Mullen and now reside in Colorado but return often to the area. Wingebach will handle the processing and packaging and Howell and Killion will be in charge of marketing, distribution and delivery of the beef.
John Howell was raised in Mullen and played several years in the NFL and has worked in marketing and sales. He has guided hunts on his family’s ranch for many years and his guests have been asking to buy his own ranch raised beef after being served prime steak and beef from his own freezer. Howell combined his hunting operation with the Dismal River Club several years ago. “Outsiders remind me how special and beautiful this area is, it makes me appreciate it more. The people in the area deserve better than the options they have now. If you have never bought beef from the store, just raised your own you don’t realize how good it is. It’s the best product in the world; a premium product should bring a premium price. We will deliver a quality product and overwhelm them with our customer service, work ethic and passion.”
Brian Killion is married to Howell’s sister and has put his wrestling experience to use as a coach. “Parents are wanting a better quality of meat for their families. The product we have here, Sandhills Nebraska Beef is the best, I want to help you guys out and let people know about our product,” he said.
The information was very well received; with current market conditions many in the cattle industry are looking for new ways to improve their bottom line.
Sandhills Beef Company can be found on Facebook or reached at (308) 546-7020. ❖