Technology continues to close in on inefficiencies in the beef industry, and while buying and selling cattle has held onto many traditional methods, change is coming. Many of the criticisms of the beef industry, like emissions and the miles of traveling required to get a pound of beef to its final destination, can be greatly improved with advancements in technology.
Simple Livestock, an app available in the App Store and on Google Play, was created with the goal of closing gaps in communication in beef industry business. The app, created by four Montanans, is designed to give buyers and sellers a single platform to post and view cattle for sale. Sellers post photographs, as well as metrics like weights and vaccination histories, and buyers are able to narrow their search by a number of specifications, including location and price.
Walker Milhoan, one of the founders of Simple Livestock, explains that the idea came about when he was working at the Bar 61 Ranch near Stevensville, Montana. At the time, Milhoan was enrolled in technology classes at the University of Montana and saw an opportunity to use this knowledge to help sell their calves in the fall. Instead of the typical process of the buyer calling and asking questions about the calves for sale, Milhoan compiled all the information he had — health protocol, feed, average daily gains, etc. — into a single spreadsheet, which was combined with videos, and sent it to the buyer via Google Drive. The buyer was impressed, and Milhoan realized that there was a need for a more comprehensive system.
Using the Airbnb interface as inspiration, Milhoan created a working prototype. As a graduate of Texas Christian University’s Ranch Management program, he was knowledgeable about the behind-the-scenes specifics involved in selling cattle, and having spent time working for large ranches, he also knew the rancher’s perspective. These factors made Milhoan passionate about getting better technology into beef producer’s hands, and he began attending stock growers meetings and talking to ranchers. At this time, he met Rich Roth, owner of the IX Ranch, which had its own software for grazing and herd management. Milhoan saw an opportunity to sell this technology, called Ranchlogs, to other ranchers, but in 2014 they were a little ahead of their time, so it didn’t take off. This experience did however introduce him to User Experience research (UX) and how to develop a User Interface (UI). These skills were used to develop Simple Livestock, which formally launched in October 2020.
Milhoan connected with other professionals to take Simple Livestock to the public. The rest of the Simple Livestock team consists of Brett Broeckel, who has years of experience working with ranchers, packers and feeders; Eroll Rice, who is a past executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association; and Sam Heutmaker, who has been programming for years and spent time working in the technology industry before starting his own company.
The goal of the app is to save money for ranchers by reducing the commissions taken when they sell cattle. Additionally, a centralized platform increases transparency, and gives ranchers the opportunity to advertise their cattle to more people, and consequently, receive a higher price. Traditionally, it is common for sellers to have a long-term relationship with buyers, which provides stability but may not allow them to actually receive the best price. The long-term goal for Simple Livestock is to move beyond the mobile app to an online desktop program, which large volume cattle buyers could use like a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. This would allow them to consolidate the phone calls, messages, emails, show lists, and other information they store as buying history onto one platform organized by each customer.
One of the biggest barriers and opportunities is to reduce the cost and time associated with sales representatives who spent months each year driving thousands of miles between sales. This traditional method is favored by many in the business and will likely be difficult to disrupt, but as Milhoan explains, no one can turn down an opportunity for more profit — especially in the beef industry.
As new generations take over operations, Milhoan sees technology like Simple Livestock finding its footing within the industry. The app is completely free to use, and the team is focused on developing relationships. Hosting any kind of transaction comes with potential risk and issue, and currently, Simple Livestock connects buyers and sellers, but leaves negotiations and transactions up to the individuals. Building a payment platform, which will allow Simple Livestock to make a commission and thus help fund this operation, is also on the horizon for the team.
The past year has proven the need for added transparency, value, and simplicity within the beef industry, and Simple Livestock is just one example of new technologies emerging to make this happen.
Lilly Platts lives in Montana, where she is an editor at the American Simmental Association and writes freelance pieces for a number of ag publications.