A trip to the Cornhusker State proves that tech and agriculture go hand in hand and I took a trip to visit some Tyson facilities in the state. Truthfully, before this summer, the longest period of time I’d ever spent in Nebraska consisted of however long it takes to drive between Omaha and the Colorado border.
I had no idea the state is home to 6.64 million cattle, or that its farms and ranches sit on 45.2 million acres, which account for 91% of Nebraska’s total land area. At the Shepperd Ranch in Mills, Neb., cattle are raised in open pastures for Tyson’s Open Prairie Natural Meats.
When Winsight visited, mama cows and their babies grazed free-range on acres and acres of grass, enjoying the warm sun on a bright day at the end of the Nebraska Midwestern summer. The Open Prairie Natural Meats brand consists of "Never Ever" beef and pork products, with no antibiotics ever and no added hormones or growth promotants.
The more than 10,000-acre ranch is also home to an 8,000-head feed yard, where cattle eat a combination of grains and proteins from hay grown on the ranch, spent grain from ethanol production, corn also grown on the ranch and more. The cattle are fed a 100% vegetarian diet that is developed by an animal dietitian to meet their evolving needs.
The feed yard operation is sustainable, and the waste from the animals is used as fertilizer to grow the grain for their feed. In additional to finding sustainable ways to care for the land, the feed yard has implemented methods to increase water efficiency to provide a nutritious diet for the cattle.
After the feed yard, the cows move to one of two Tyson Fresh beef processing facilities in Nebraska that employ about 8,438 people. I’d be visiting the one in Lexington.
When our car pulled up to the processing facility in the dark of early morning, right at the shift change, the air smelled like a farm and the parking lot was already full. We were welcomed into the building, outfitted with white coats and hard hats, and shepherded up the stairs to the plant floor.
We were met with a hanging conveyor full of beef carcasses ready for processing. Open Prairie Natural Angus Beef is a consistent product with USDA quality grades of Prime and Choice.
As part of the tour, instead of filing directly through to the floor full of the specialized labor that would be dissecting it into the primal, sub-primal and retail cuts, each carcass paused very briefly for a DNA test. As part of the Trusted Path Program, each carcass in the Open PrairieNatural Meats program is swabbed for DNA samples that are used for traceability. Each cut and grind of Open Prairie Natural Angus Beef is traceable back to the ranch via DNA TraceBack technology from IdnetiGEN. That means that each cut of beef is traceable to a place of birth, and every stop along the way—an important metric for the brand’s “Never Ever” promise.
The Winsight tour for me and fellow editor Kelsey Nash allowed us to visit the Lexington, Neb., beef processing plant process through to being boxed.