BeefTracker: A Sustainability Data Collection Tool

About BeefTracker 

BeefTracker is a software solution designed to provide a working example of how the latest web-based mapping technologies can be used to demonstrate how beef production fits within a sustainable ecosystem. BeefTracker also provides data to populate the beef sustainability life cycle assessment (LCA). 

Through sophisticated geographical information system (GIS) software, BeefTracker allows users to collect data related to conservation and land resources, archive and retrieve geo-located monitoring data, record operational parameters, locate opportunities for improvement, add ranches and pastures, and adjust inventory. 

BeefTracker allows cattle farmers and ranchers to input data about their operation(s), which will provide a benchmark of their current sustainability status. Over time, as new data is added, the historical perspective will allow them to track continuous improvement.

BeefTracker software solution has tools that allow ranchers to: 

  • Track Irrigation at a Pasture Level • Add Conservation Efforts 
  • Add Facilities 
  • Add Historic Field Observations 
  • Generate Reports 
  • Access Maps of Working Environment 
  • Create Operations, Ranches, and Pastures 
  • Establish Animal Unit Equivalents for each Livestock Class 
  • Establish and Maintain Livestock Inventories
Conservation Efforts 

Ranchers in the United States have a long history of investing in conservation efforts on their lands. BeefTracker provides a way to benchmark common conservation efforts across the United States and allows ranchers to map both completed and planned conservation efforts. Ranchers are able to upload digital photos to report conservation actions and monitor improvements to help tell “the beef sustainability story” to value chain stakeholders, influencers and consumers.

Historic Field Observations 

Historic photo plots are one of the most valuable sources of information for evaluating land resources and range conditions and many U.S. ranchers have been collecting this kind of information for decades. BeefTracker provides the capability to upload these historic observations into ArcGIS Online where they can be archived, and retrieved later with ease, using a map interface. This technology will greatly enhance the ability of researchers to use this collected data in LCA platforms. Being able to access and evaluate historic information is key to benchmarking and evaluating sustainability for the cow-calf segment. Historic field observations are represented as points in BeefTracker and these points can be characterized when they are input as observations of an: Amphibian, bird, mammal, reptile, vegetation, etc.

Access Maps 

Every cattle operation has a different set of location-based factors that affect its overall sustainability. As web-based mapping technology has evolved, an increasing number of those differing factors are now available on the web as map services. These map services can provide insight into an operation’s working environment to help determine how those factors may influence an operation’s sustainability and can provide useful information used to model industry sustainability through LCA. 

There are five working environment maps at the ranch level including maps of:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Forecasts
  • Federal Lands 
  • Fire 
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Allotments 
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Warnings
At the pasture level there are six working environment maps including maps of:

  • United States Geological Survey (USGS) Land Cover 
  • Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Soils 
  • United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Critical Habitat 
  • Flood Risk 
  • Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Soils/Range Production 
  • United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Wetlands


Every ranch has a set of facilities that are used to manage livestock on the operation. BeefTracker provides an initial attempt to identify the kinds of facilities ranchers commonly utilize across the United States and provides ranchers the ability to map both completed and planned facilities. Ranchers are able to attach a digital photo for facilities and represent them on their operation maps as points, lines, and polygons.


BeefTracker includes the capability to both generate initial summary reports and to display/download livestock inventory tables. Reporting is done at the Operation, Ranch, and Pasture levels. 


As America’s farmers and ranchers are leaders in the area of sustainability and are committed to producing responsibly raised beef for consumers across the globe, this checkoff-funded software solution is one of many research tools designed to benchmark sustainability by demonstrating how cattle farmers and ranchers balance environmental responsibility, economic opportunity, and social diligence across their operations. 


A significant gap exists in LCA methodology, which is the most common scientific measure of sustainability, in the area of ecosystems. To date, many of the benefits that cattle farmers and ranchers contribute to the ecosystem through biological services are not quantifiable. The data collected by BeefTracker can begin to fill those gaps and build databases which can be used to update the beef sustainability LCA.