By Cheryl Kepes
Photos courtesy Pharo Cattle Co.
Pharo Cattle Company thrives by producing low maintenance cattle with minimal inputs.
Kit Pharo has never been hesitant about taking the road less traveled. In fact, he quite prefers it. His direct and confident approach to what seems to some in the cattle industry as a rogue management style, simply makes sense to Kit. As the leader of Pharo Cattle Company, headquartered in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, he’s grown his seedstock operation from a single herd to a multi-state phenomenon. Pharo Cattle Company (PCC) has cooperative herds in 12 states and sells over 1,000 bulls a year.
After being away from ranch life for 15 years, Kit and his wife, Deanna, had the opportunity to lease 4,000 acres of grassland near their hometown in Eastern Colorado. They borrowed money to purchase a herd of commercial cows. It was a dream come true - so they thought. They jumped into ranching following standard management practices. However, due to the direction of the cattle industry at the time, the Pharos were forced to rethink their strategies.
“During the 1980s, everyone in the cow/calf business was trying to make their cattle as big as they could as fast as they could. It was a race to see who could produce the biggest cattle,” Kit Pharo said. Kit soon realized it does not matter how big your cattle are if they’re not profitable. The status quo management style was not sustainable for his operation. Therefore, Kit decided he needed to take a totally different approach if he wanted to succeed.
Rather than focusing on heavier weaning weights which created bigger cows that required more feed, Kit shifted the emphasis to pounds and profit per acre, not per animal. He wanted to get the most out of every acre he controlled. His outside-the-box thinking centered around the philosophy of producing low-maintenance cattle with drastically reduced expenses.
The genetics Kit needed to build his program were nearly impossible to find. Therefore, to produce the type of cattle he envisioned, Kit made the switch from a commercial operation to a seedstock operation. He said, “Being an opportunist, I decided to provide an alternative to the status quo “bigger is better” way of thinking.” It wasn’t easy, but over time and with the help of nature and disciplined culling, the Pharos accomplished what they set out to do.
Pharo Cattle Company started by grazing their cows 365 days a year. The cows were not given any feed, protein or hay unless absolutely necessary (i.e., densely packed snow). Pharo Cattle Company continued to reduce expenses by eliminating vaccinations and pesticides. “We just started pulling away inputs,” Kit explained. “Most of the inputs that we are so used to today were not around one hundred years ago. And yet, there were cows that lived and thrived and bred back. After 15 years of forcing our cows to do more with less, we had cows old enough to show us what works,” Kit added.
The females making the cut in Pharo Cattle Company’s program are moderate in size with a frame score of 2 to 4. Their mature weight typically falls between 1,050 to 1,250 pounds. The cattle must possess the ability to maintain good body condition on limited feed resources and other inputs. “Cattle that can survive on less feed, will meet their survival requirements much sooner and then they will be able to store up energy in the form of fat. Those are the ones that work,” Kit stated.
The cattle must also display resilience and genetic resistance to flies and other parasites. “Cattle that have problems with parasites or that require too much feed for maintenance will eventually weed themselves out,” Kit said.
Though building the foundation of his herd may have seemed slow at first, it soon gained in popularity creating a demand larger than Pharo Cattle Company could fill. In the late 1990s, the Pharos started to establish satellite herds with a few of their loyal customers. Then in 2000, Kit and Deanna’s son, Tyson, joined the operation fulltime to handle the day-to-day management of the home ranch.
The partnerships with cooperative producers grew quickly. Currently, Pharo Cattle Company has satellite herds in 12 states from Minnesota to Texas and from Alabama to Montana. “We are covering a huge geographical area in a whole lot of different and unique environments. That’s been another key to our success,” Kit shared.
Pharo Cattle Company’s seedstock program includes Angus, Red Angus, Hereford and composites. The variety of breeds fits in with Kit’s philosophy of producing cattle well-suited for the environment in which they live. Pharo Cattle Company operates with around 6,000 cows across the country. All of their programs focus on grass-based genetics and operate with nominal expenses. “With the high cost of land and other inputs, cow/calf producers must have a low or no-input operation with adaptable genetics. That’s the only way they will be able to survive,” Kit said.
Grass Developed Bulls
The popularity of Pharo Cattle Company’s bulls gradually increased after its first bull sale in 1991. At the operation’s inaugural bull sale, the Pharos sold six bulls. Presently, Pharo Cattle Company sells over 1,000 bulls each year in its seven bull sales. The fall sales are held in Colorado, Alabama, Montana and Nebraska. The spring sales are located in Texas, Missouri and Colorado.
Pharo Cattle Company’s bulls are developed on grass and sold at 18 months of age. “Since cows are not going to spend their lives in a feedlot eating grain, we think you should be buying bulls that were born, raised and developed on grass. Unlike bulls that are developed on grain, our grass-developed bulls will not melt and fall apart when you take them home,” Kit explained.
The geographical and breed diversity produces bulls equipped for the environments where they will go to work. Producers come to Pharo Cattle Company to find genetics that will thrive in their climate.
The Pharos have sold bulls to customers in 46 states in the continental United States as well as Hawaii. They have also sold bulls to customers in Mexico, Canada, and Australia. The low-maintenance, easy-fleshing and hardy nature of Pharo Cattle Company’s cattle produces bulls that can do more for less. “We are not afraid to turn our bulls out with 35 to 40 cows the first year, sometimes 50 cows. The second year we will go 50 to 80 cows. That blows people’s minds,” Kit shared. “But when you have low-maintenance bulls that were developed right, their feet are good, their livers are good and their reproduction is good. It just makes sense.”
Tolerance and Resistance
In some ways, managing outside the status quo forces innovation. When Kit struggled to find the genetics he was looking for, he started to produce them on his own. Pharo Cattle Company has continued to produce animals that are genetically resistant to environmental stressors.
For nearly two decades, Pharo Cattle Company has been evaluating and scoring their bulls for genetic fly resistance. Kit said, “While others continue to treat the symptoms of the problem with toxic chemicals, we are helping you solve the problem with genetics.” For the past 10 years, Pharo Cattle Company has been working to develop a heat-tolerant composite breed without any Brahman genetics incorporated. The Pharos are tapping into the Spanish and African breeds to create strong, heat-tolerant genetics.
Education and Future
Kit is the first to admit not everyone understands or agrees with his ranching philosophies. That’s why he spent decades working to explain and educate others about his cattle management practices. He wrote his first educational newsletter in 1994 and mailed it to a couple hundred people.
Much like the other components of his operation, the educational aspect of Pharo Cattle Company has boomed. Kit has traveled the country and the world speaking to cow/calf producers. He sends out a weekly email to more than 18,000 people. Pharo Cattle Company also hosts a weekly podcast and mails out a quarterly newsletter to more than 20,000 subscribers. “I attribute a lot of our success to education. My message has not changed one bit since the early 1990s. I am just looking for new and different ways to say it, so more people can understand,” Kit said.
The passion Kit possesses for his way of ranching burns as strongly today as it did all those years ago when he course-corrected the direction of his operation. Though taking the road less traveled can be far bumpier and more unpredictable, for Pharo Cattle Company, it’s been a journey to profitability and success.
Upcoming Bull Sales:
Colorado - Nov. 6 | Alabama - Nov. 11
Montana - Nov. 18 | Nebraska - Dec. 4
learn more at www.pharocattle.com