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The King Ranch, one of America's most storied ranches, has a 150-year history of shaping the beef industry. It continues to change, grow and thrive thanks to dedication, innovation, vision and a people-first philosophy.
Located at Kingsville, TX, the King Ranch raises Santa Gertrudis and Santa Cruz cattle.
The King Ranch Today
“We're vertically integrated all the way through,” says Genho. Besides seedstock, cow-calf, stocker and feeding enterprises, King Ranch is also a founder of Rancher's Renaissance. They're one of three groups supplying cattle to Excel for the Cattleman's Collection brand being marketed exclusively through Kroger stores.
Currently, the King Ranch itself occupies some 825,000 acres in south Texas among four different divisions. There are 1,000 registered Santa Gertrudis cattle in the seedstock operation and another 23,000 commercial cows. In all, using stocker cattle for drought flexibility, King Ranch is running about 32,000 animal units. It also includes 15, 150-acre preconditioning traps and a 15,000-head feedyard.
For anyone wondering how managing a ranch this vast differs from riding herd over one a fraction of that size, Genho says, “You do the same things, you just add more zeros to everything.” For instance, instead of five bulls you need 500, rather than a couple of hired hands you need lots more.
About 400 folks are employed by King Ranch — roughly a quarter of them in the cattle portion of the business. There are five full-time wildlife biologists alone.
The cattle business is as straight-forward as it is vertically integrated. Along with marketing some of their Santa Gertrudis seedstock, it's the genetic stream they use to fuel their Santa Cruz commercial composite program. The results are market cattle that are half Santa Gertrudis, one quarter Gelbvieh and one quarter Red Angus. Genho emphasizes the Santa Cruz represent their crossbreeding system, not a separate breed of cattle.
As for cattle feeding, they buy calves from South Texas and Southeast for their yard because the market for their home-raised cattle tends to be higher farther north, he says. The cattle fed in the King yard — about 20% are custom cattle — end up going either into the Nolan Ryan beef brand or to Publix in Florida. Conversely, the Santa Cruz cattle they raise and feed in custom yards are marketed through Rancher's Renaissance.
And then there are the horses.
“King Ranch has always been dedicated to keeping its men well-mounted,” says Genho. That's a little like saying Johnny Unitas once threw a football. The fact is King Ranch is home to volumes of American horse history.
Wimpy, the first quarter horse registered by the American Quarter Horse Association, was theirs. Peppy San Badger (Little Peppy), the all-time leading sire of National Cutting Horse Association stock, and his sire, San Peppy, are King Ranch legends. They had the 1946 Triple Crown champion with Assault — yes, that Triple Crown. Today the ranch has a band of 80 brood mares and about 300 using horses.
King Ranch is a hunter's heaven with world-class hunting for quail, deer, turkey and Nilgai (pronounced Nil-guy) antelope. If you've never seen Nilgai, their coarse, angular head and mature weight of about 700 lbs. can make them appear in the dusk like some otherworldly creature.
“People ask whether cattle or wildlife are more important to the sustainability of the operation,” says Genho. “The answer is it takes both.”
Actually, Genho says, it takes all. “We'll continue to grow in agriculture where we see profitable opportunities,” he adds.
As evidence of that, King Ranch expanded its ag holdings in 1998 and eventually became the largest U.S. citrus producer. Genho says continued growth and diversification has to do both with massaging a business for the times and the simple fact that the more family you have relying on the ranch for income, the harder one must work at figuring out how to make the resources return more.
Consequently, ranch history represents the dynamic nature of the business. For instance, King Ranch once encompassed more land, with ranches in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cuba, Morocco, Spain, Venezuela, Florida, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. Genho explains that it had to do with expanding the presence of Santa Gertrudis and King Ranch quarter horses, upgrading their own stock, along with teaching and learning in each unique environment. Times change, though, so those ranches were sold.
“You can't buy a ranch today in the U.S. and pay for it with cattle. We are, to a great extent, land managers, and cattle is one of the enterprises we use to manage the land in our care,” says Genho. “King Ranch Inc. is an agricultural company. We're involved in citrus, sugar cane, sod, cotton, grain, wildlife and cattle.”
More importantly, Genho emphasizes King Ranch remains profitable because it focuses on more than just profit.
“Profits follow excellence, not the other way around. You're profitable only if you have a clear mission that is meaningful. The goal can't just be profit,” he says. “There is and has always been here a commitment to resources and making them better rather than just focusing on profit. The King Ranch has always taken the long-term perspective, rather than looking at the short-term fix.”
One thing Genho and others are willing to bet on, though, is that this south Texas land pioneered by an indentured servant from New York will remain intact, even while shifting to meet changing demands.
“This ranch is the essence of who we are — the people of King Ranch, the family and the Kineños. It will be here when Hell freezes over,” Genho says. Consider their legacy. You can't bet against it.
The Running W
The meaning behind the “Running W” remains a mystery.
Perhaps it represents one of the ranch's many diamondback rattlesnakes, the winding Santa Gertrudis Creek, or the Longhorn's sweeping horns. Whatever the concept, as a brand the Running W is handsome and practical, designed to heal quickly, thwart rustlers and grow with the animal that bears it — just as King Ranch has evolved over time. Today the Running W appears on both prize-winning cattle and top quality leather goods as an icon of the American ranching industry.