Ryan Wood, 37, props a boot on a fence rail at his 652-acre Sweetwood Cattle Company, which borders the Elk River near the historic ranch community of Steamboat Springs, Colo. A former fullback for the Dallas Cowboys and co-founder of apparel giant Under Armour, he’s happy to be off the gridiron and out of the boardroom and raising beef full time.
What got you into the beef industry?
“I knew I wanted to come back to Colorado [Wood grew up in Longmont], but I didn’t come here expecting to be a cattleman. The ranch is in the middle of cattle country, but it was next to impossible to get local beef. The more time I spend out here, the more I appreciate how special this place is. I wanted some way to share it—without people coming and living in my cabin.”
What do you like about the cowboy life?
“The best part is being able to work outside every day. At Under Armour, I spent most of my time inside offices, conference rooms, and hotels. I love the physical aspect of ranching, and also the opportunities to problem solve and be creative.”
Tell us about your operation?
“We’re taking an intimate approach to raising [Angus] beef, getting back to the roots of how it all started. 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 pristine air, water, and grass. I want our ranch to be a gold standard for small ranches competing with large industrial producers.”
What’s unique about Sweetwood Cattle Company?
“Our feed program is sustainable from top to bottom. Our cattle are raised on grass from birth to 15 months, and then introduced to blended grains from Colorado along with a ‘sweet’ treat that we’ve created for added energy and overall health. A calculated amount of sugar from beets grown in Colorado and various natural herbs give our cattle a natural boost of energy during critical winter months. No hormones, no antibiotics, no shortcuts.”
You seem to enjoy shaking up the status quo.
“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 Sweetwood. Beef has been produced in this country the same way for years, and large industrial feedlots and unnecessary long-distance trucking have had a huge environmental impact. [We feel that] our approach is better for the environment, the cattle, and the consumers.”
Tell us about your distribution plans.
“I’m a co-owner of a local restaurant called Big House Burgers. So we’re using it there, and also selling it locally. We’re also shipping it frozen across the country, complete with a piece of sage from the ranch. Most tourists leave here with a T-shirt or a ski poster. Why not a package of Sweetwood steaks that will make them think about Steamboat when they’re back home?”
And the down and dirty ranch work?
“I love it. After a big day on the ranch, I feel like I just went through a football game. I enjoy the physical demands of the job.”
What do you wear?
“If I’m gonna be working up a sweat— working cows, running equipment, riding horses—it’s always Under Armour under my cowboy duds.”