Back when Rob Jennings helped found the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition back in 2017, he knew he needed to find a use case that resonated with residents of the Cowboy State. It didn’t take him long before he settled on beef.
“Back then, there was a lot of conversation around about how grass-fed, grain-finished Wyoming fat cattle beef was being mixed into commodity feed yards with lesser animals, let’s say,” Jennings said on a Zoom call with The Spoon. “And so we developed this idea about how you could use blockchain to verify the animal’s provenance.”
Back then, Jennings worked with the University of Wyoming to develop the technology for his first blockchain startup called Beefchain. And while he and other early blockchain enthusiasts found the idea of putting the information about a steer on the blockchain exciting, Jennings found the response more muted when explaining the technology to ranchers, mainly because many of them still couldn’t see the immediate value of such a tech-forward solution.
That’s when Jennings started to think about ways to utilize NFTs. With the early implementations of storing cattle data on the blockchain, Jennings said they would hash an entire excel spreadsheet and put it on the bitcoin blockchain.
“Yes, you’re putting the information there, but it wasn’t functional,” said Jennings.
He knew that there were certain challenges in cattle ranching that could be met head-on with the utility provided by NFTs that would go beyond simply putting information on the blockchain. He knew that to build something cattle ranchers and others in the industry found useful, he had to create a platform for an individual digital record and add on additional functionality through the application layer brought on by an NFT. That’s when he founded CattleProof.
“It’s like a driver’s license for cows,” said Jennings. “I’ve always believed that whatever you want to do with blockchain and all of the functionality that’s promised to us down the horizon, and it starts with creating that record.”
Attributes about the cow such as age, genetics, ranch of origin, and more can be stored and easily accessed by the holder of the NFT. Additionally, the trail of certifications can be added to the NFT. For example, a brand inspector or veterinarian might inspect the cattle and issue an inspection record which is then appended to the NFT.
“Traditionally, inspection records are a piece of paper,” said Jennings. “Inspectors say, ‘okay, these hundred cows are good’, and then you have that one piece of paper you take along the supply chain. So what we wanted to do is create the ability for all of this metadata that’s associated with each animal to travel along the supply chain. So the next guy who buys this animal, whether it’s one or one hundred, will have access to all of this information appended to this NFT.”
Jennings also said financial functionality could be derived from a cow NFT.
“You could use an NFT record to collateralize the animals with a bank,” said Jennings. “You could use them to track movement. You can use them to do an e-brand inspection and interstate movement.”
Jennings says that transferring ownership via an NFT at cattle auctions will expedite fund transfer for the cow. Funds transfer nearly immediately, compared to the days or weeks through the traditional financial reconciliation process.
The way CattleProof’s technology works is the rancher creates an account via the company’s website, which creates a digital wallet. Next, the rancher tags the cow via a Bluetooth sensor or an EID (an embedded tag that goes into the cow’s ear), and then uses the CattleProof app to scan the EID for each animal. Next, they enter the data (photo, weight, breed, etc) and, once all the information is entered, the rancher “hits a big red button” and mints an NFT on the Ethereum blockchain.
From there, the owner of the NFT controls who can see the data and is the only one that can enter new data (past data can’t be changed). If the animal is sold, ownership of the NFT – and all control rights to the data and the animal – are passed onto the new owner.
His company has already run a successful trial of the collaboration with Wilson Ranch in December. The company helped Wilson Ranch create NFTs for 20 steers that were sold through the website of Wilson’s distribution partner, Flying Diamond Beef. The company has plans to expand trials to more ranches in the coming months.
CattleProof has filed for a provisional patent and is currently working to develop a USDA process that the agency can recognize as an approved process flow for a verified claim utilizing blockchain technology.
“It’s exciting,” said Jennings. “I grew up in Wyoming. I like the Western way of life. I want to help producers connect more directly with consumers and democratize the marketplace.”