BIXS is getting another overhaul — but this revamp could make the beef database a lot more attractive to cattle producers.
The Beef InfoXchange System has struggled since its creation four years ago to attract producers, but the company taking it over says it will be expanded and enhanced to bring in all players — from ranch to packing plant — into the fold.
“If we can’t bring everyone in, then it’s really hard to make it succeed,” Hubert Lau, executive vice-president of ViewTrak Technologies, said in an interview.
“When you have all that data flowing through, it’s extremely powerful. If we are missing some, then of course, it’s not going to be as effective. I really believe that there is an underlying desire in the whole industry to see something like BIXS succeed.”
Part of the cool response to BIXS from cattle producers — fewer than 1,000 have signed on — is because they only receive raw carcass data once their cattle are slaughtered and graded.
Having data from along the chain can make a big difference, said feedlot operator Leighton Kolk, who has partnered with four producers to develop a software system that tracks cattle from arrival at the feedlot to processing.
“With a complete database system, the producer will learn more about his or her production, genetics, cows, and calves,” said the operator of Kolk Farms feedlot northeast of Picture Butte.
“He’ll be able to learn about his production and if he is willing to change, he will be able to benefit from improving his efficiency, his productivity, or his value,” said Kolk, who has changed rations, days on rations, and cattle-purchasing criteria because of his system.
But he stressed it takes time to evaluate the data and make changes that improve efficiency.
“Producers shouldn’t rush to their mailbox and look for the cheque,” he said. “The benefits won’t be there right this year. It’s more of a process.”
BIXS has also been a process.
The initial version was difficult to use and prone to crashing, which prompted it to be shut down. A new version was given a ‘soft launch’ in March. Now its owner, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, is handing over the system to a newly formed (and as yet unnamed) private company that it will jointly own with ViewTrak Technologies. The Edmonton-based technology and traceability company developed Alberta’s Livestock Investigation Services software and says it supports over 50 million head of livestock annually with its IT products.
Bringing in data from feedlots and backgrounders will bring the BIXS system to the next level, and Lau said its redevelopment will happen with “steroid speed.”
Data is just part of the story, it’s also about having a system that easily provides meaningful numbers, said Kolk, who is also a director on the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, and vice-chair of the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association.
Kolk’s system not only allows him to get data of any of the 14,000 head in his feedlot with a click of a mouse, but provides it in a way that allows him to make decisions on management and performance.
“The system connects the dots so we can identify what’s working, and if something is working, we can reward that,” he said.
But producers expecting a premium will be disappointed, he said. Rather, the biggest benefit of a calf-to-carcass system is that it allows everyone to work co-operatively to find efficiencies and improve the end product, he said.
“It’s there, but it’s not a separate entry on the cheque ledger that says, ‘By the way, here’s 50 bucks more per head,’” said Kolk.
The third edition of BIXS will be built on the existing system — which has three million detailed carcass records and 3.4 million animal birthdate records — and ViewTrak will provide the funding for that, said Lau.
CCA said it decided to enter into the partnership because it did not have the resources, tools, or mandate to take the database any further.
The new company will have two board members from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, two from ViewTrak, and a fifth director chosen by both organizations.
“Because our background is more technology, we may not know all the legislations and regulations and so on, so we want the board of directors to help us navigate those and set the directions so we would be aligned properly with the industry, both Canadian and internationally,” said Lau.