“Our children are actually the ones responsible for starting our Red Angus herd.”
While that’s not real uncommon, few if any operations have grown as rapidly in size and quality as Wildcat Creek Ranch east of Peabody.
Clarifying that initial remark, owner Klee Robert Watchous (whose first name is pronounced “Clay”), at his Newton headquarters office, said, “We got into the Red Angus business, along with horses, hogs, even rabbits, really, because our children wanted to show animals in 4-H.”
It was just a bit more than three years ago when Watchous’ oldest son, Kale, then 11, was at a Red Angus sale with his grandpa, Dale Phares, and called Dad to see if he could buy a pair of heifers.
Verifying that Phares, his father-in-law, approved, Watchous gave the OK for the purchase. Those females are the foundation for a herd that has grown nearly 350 times.
“We love the Red Angus breed,” Watchous said. “These are exceptional cattle, and the people in the breed are equally exceptional.
“Founded on ideas that are uniquely Red Angus, our breeding program is new, but we hope our values always seem old,” he added.
Clarifying his lifelong involvement in the oil business, Palomino Petroleum, which continues today, Watchous at the start had little livestock background.
But, he said, “We had some land, but those two show heifers soon grew to three cows, then four and just continued to increase.”
Watchous added with a laugh, “It escalated quickly and got out of hand. We needed more land to accommodate our rapidly growing herd.”
One day in August 2010, on the way to the Iowa State Fair to show Red Angus cattle, Watchous was driving by the White Ranch, east of Peabody, looked over and almost unconsciously reasoned: “We should try to lease some of that grass for our cow herd.”
Days later he found out the western-edge Flint Hills ranch was going on the auction block.
“We did some research and literally fell in love with everything about the historic spread that dates back to 1870,” he said.
Watchous, along with his wife, Jennifer, was the successful bidder at the Oct. 19, 2010, auction of 6,800 acres. Later procurements have increased the size of the ranch to 8,100 acres.
Wildcat Creek Ranch, which was established in March 2010, was expanded exponentially.
“We named the ranch after the creek that runs right next to our home and office in southeastern Harvey County,” Watchous said.
It was a time of family delight acquiring the ranch, originally known as Rockland Farm, most recognized for the beautiful 80-foot by 140-foot limestone barn, along with steel corral setup featuring a catwalk, situated along the north side of U.S. Highway 50, between Peabody and Florence.
“The barn was built in 1887,” Watchous said. “They said a head mason from Virginia was paid $5 a day, and local men and teams of horses were hired at $1 a day to quarry, haul and help lay the stone.”
The history of the magnificent ranch, its previous owners, name changes, etc., is a story of its own, and is briefed in a 20-page book included on the Wildcat Creek Ranch website.
But the ranch acquisition reversed the cattle-to-land ratio Watchous had previously faced.
“We now had more land than we had cattle,” he said.
However, just a few days before the land auction, Soo Line Cattle Co. in Midale, Sask., had a Red Angus herd dispersal.
They bought about 100 head of the top females, as well as the sale topping bull, Red Cockburn Ribeye 308U, whose silhouette will soon grace the Wildcat Creek Ranch sign.
“They had a great herd for our foundation, and it put us on the map in the Red Angus business,” Watchous said.
Additional acquisitions have been made from the most elite herds across North America, according to Watchous, who estimated the heard to be in the neighborhood of 600 Red Angus cows now.
“We’ve also added about 100 black Angus cows,” he said. “This is strictly a purebred registered operation.”
Quality typically costs more, and because Wildcat Creek has bought “high sellers” on repeat occasions, their name is already well known in Red Angus circles. Winning on the Red Angus show circuit have further enhanced familiarity.
“So far, we’ve been buyers of great Red Angus cattle produced by other outstanding breeders,” Watchous said. “We hope to become known as dedicated performance breeders of elite Red and Black Angus genetics with exceptional quality.”
While all cows are mated artificially, Wildcat Creek has selected top bulls for cleanup.
“We’ve done some flushing embryos from top females and will likely expand that for more rapid herd quality development,” Watchous said.
The ranch hosted its second production bull sale, with several heifers, in late March. A major female auction is planned for November.
“We have been building the herd, so we actually have not yet sold many cattle,” he said. “We endeavor to produce cattle that possess the true dimension, power and style to outperform in all facets of beef production.
“Our genetics are bred to be efficient and excel in the pasture and on feed. We will produce cattle that will truly be productive and positively impact the bottom line of the real world cattleman.
“Although commonly perceived as paradoxical, we have successfully combined eminent phenotype with first class EPDs (expected progeny differences). Our mission is to make each generation superior to that of its progenitors.”
In addition to their son, Kale Robert, now 14, the family includes: Lane Reyburn, 12; Victoria “Tori” Lyn, 8; and Tessa Kathleen, 4.
Even with outstanding cattle on one of the most picturesque working ranches in the country, dedicated employees are what make Wildcat Creek Ranch, Watchous said.
He expressed appreciation to herd manger Darren Schrag, herdsmen Grant Phares, Jeremy Stucky and Ty Goossen, program coordinator Kent McCune, stable manager Tyler Wedel and father-in-law Phares, senior adviser.
“Our life priorities are God, family and work, in that order,” Watchous said. “We are blessed to have a family ranching operation encompassing all who work with us.
“Working together toward a common goal creates a special bond as each person’s responsibilities are a part of the whole picture. Youth will always be the driving force behind what we do as we plan to continue this ranch for many generations to come,” he added.