Former Dallas Cowboy and Under Armour co-founder Ryan Wood comes clean on raising a new brand of cattle.
Wearing a camo Under Armour baseball cap, faded jeans and blue-and-grey plaid shirt that matches his eyes, Ryan Wood props a boot on a fence rail at his 652-acre Sweetwood Cattle Company ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. While it’s a far cry from his days on the gridiron and corporate grind, he’s in his element here every bit as much as when he was a fullback for the Dallas Cowboys or the founding executive of apparel-maker Under Armour.
It’s here that he’s creating a new brand of artisan beef, using sustainable practices to raise, process and distribute red angus. This spring, Sweetwood became the first ranch in Colorado, and only the second in the country, to receive a vaunted “verified green” award from the USDA.
If he faces competition, he’s used to it. Raised in Loveland, Colorado, Wood was on Ohio’s Youngstown State national championship football team, made All Pac 10 at Arizona State and was drafted by the Cowboys in 1996, all before co-founding Under Armour. Like a trail of defensemen in his wake, all that’s behind him now as he kicks into a new gear raising a new breed of beef consumers can order online.
“We’re taking a very intimate approach to raising beef, getting back to the roots of how it all started,” he says. “Our cattle aren’t just numbers at a feedlot; we can name almost every one. They’re born, raised and finished here, where there’s great air, water and grass—the same quality-of-life reasons we’re here. I want our ranch to be a gold standard of how beef is raised.”
He is drawing on his corporate and NFL experience in the new venture.
“At Under Armour we saw athletes working out in cotton t-shirts and thought there had to be a better way. It’s the same with ranching. People have been doing things the same way for years—trucking cattle thousands of miles away to feedlots, which creates a huge environmental footprint. Our technique produces a better, more natural product, and is better for the environment,” he says.
The cattle are raised on grass and finished on grain, as well as a new proprietary “sweet treat” formula made from Colorado beets and natural herbs to promote digestion and overall health.
“I didn’t come here expecting to be a cattleman. But here I was living in the middle of cattle country and it was next to impossible to get local beef,” he explains. “The more time I spent out here the more I appreciated how special this place was and I wanted some way to share it.”
And what happens when a Cowboy becomes a cowboy?
“After a big day on the ranch,” says Wood, “I feel like I just went through a football game.”
Ryan Wood is clearly having fun branding Sweetwood—and not just the cows. He’s named two cuts of meat after his dogs Judge’s Top Sirloin and Ruby’s Ribeye, offers a Chapped-Ass Chorizo; has concocted a Sweet Burger seasoned with sugar and cinnamon, has a local restaurant offering a “Moojito” made from the same sugar and herb formula he gives his cows and he offers Sweet Bucks gift certificates as presents.sweetwoodcc.com; 877-71-SWEET