Ssince the writing of this article, Wildcat Creek Ranch has since been dispersed.
“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 of Peabody.
Clarifying 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 okay for the purchase. Those females are the foundation for a herd that has grown nearly 350 times.
“We love the Red Angus breed. These are exceptional cattle, and the people in the breed are equally exceptional,” Watchous contended.
“Founded on ideas that are uniquely Red Angus, our breeding program is new, but we hope our values always seem old,” emphasized Watchous.
Clarifying his lifelong involvement in the oil business, Palomino Petroleum, which continues today, Watchous at the start had little livestock background.
However, he explained, “We had some land, but those two ‘show heifers’ soon grew to three cows, then four and just continued to increase.”
Watchous joked, “It escalated quickly and got out of hand.
“We needed more land to accommodate our rapidly growing herd,” Watchous declared.
By coincidence 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 in Marion County, looked over and almost unconsciously reasoned: “We should try to lease some of that grass for our cow herd.”
Then days later, come to find 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,” Watchous reflected.
Watchous, along with his wife, Jennifer, was the successful bidder at the October 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,” noted Watchous.
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 set-up featuring a catwalk, situated along the north side of U.S. Highway 50, between Peabody and Florence.
“The barn was built in 1887,” Watchous commented. “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.”
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-land ratio Watchous had previously faced.
“We now had more land than we had cattle,” he admitted.
However, just a few days before the land auction, Soo Line Cattle Company in Midale, Saskatchewan, Canada, had a Red Angus herd dispersal. “We bought approximately 100 head of their 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 admitted.
Additional acquisitions have been made from the most elite herds across North America, according to Watchous, who tallied there are in the neighborhood of 600 Red Angus cows now.
“We’ve also added about 100 black Angus cows. This is strictly a purebred registered operation,” he pointed out.
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. Winnings 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 evaluated. “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.
“We’re having our second production bull sale, with several heifers, on Thursday, March 28, at the ranch starting at 6 o’clock,” said Watchous, noting a major female auction is also being planned for November.
“We have been building the herd, so we actually have not yet sold many cattle,” he added.
Without reservation, Watchous explained, “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,” Watchous clarified.
In addition to their son, Kale Robert, now 14, the family includes Lane Reyburn, 12; Victoria “Tori” Lyn, eight; and Tessa Kathleen, four.
Even with outstanding cattle on one of the most picturesque working ranches in the country, dedicated employees are what make Wildcat Creek Ranch, Watchous emphatically credited.
He expressed appreciation to herd manger Darren Schrag, herdsmen Grant Phares, Jeremy Stucky and Ty Goossen, along with recently named program coordinator Kent McCune, stable manager Tyler Wedel and father-in-law Phares, senior advisor.
“Our life priorities are God, family and work, in that order,” Watchous recognized. “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,” Watchous forecasted.
“‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift,’” Watchous summarized in quoting Second Corinthians 9:15.