Four generations of the Pitts family have made their home and living on a Missouri Century Farm in Hickory County with the fifth generation currently joining in on the tradition.
“My great great grandpa started this farm in 1907 and we just received our Century Farm status this year,” said Robb Pitts, manager of Pitts Angus Farms in Hermitage, Mo.
Like many other farms in Southwest Missouri in the early 1900s they raised dairy cows and beef cattle. William L. Pitts and his son, Maurice Pitts, purchased the farm from William’s father in 1976. However, while leasing the property prior to purchasing William and Maurice gradually transitioned their commercial cattle herd into a registered Angus operation in 1973. “We were a basic southwest Missouri farm until we started raising registered cattle,” stated Robb.
Pitts Angus Farms has since become a leader in the Angus breed and in 2013 the American Angus Association recognized them as the sixth largest Angus herd in Missouri. They registered approximately 190 animals in 2013. “I want cattle that grade prime and are still really good stock. If an animal isn’t good enough for me then I won’t register and reproduce it,” explained Robb.
That top-quality mentality is seen throughout the farm in every management decision made day-to-day. From genetics to culling to herd health to pasture management every decision is carefully examined and recorded.
“On the genetics side of things we try to stay as current as we can. Our program is different when compared to other herds,” said Robb.
“We are selling beef,” continued Robb. “It’s important to have carcass data in the forefront. Some carcass traits we focus on are carcass weight, marbling, rib eye area and fat thickness. Our view is to get genetics that meet our customer base.” Pitts Angus Farms will be hosting their annual production sale on November 8, selling 40-60 females and 40 bulls.
Pitts Angus Farms strives to offer well-rounded genetics for their customers.
“Calving ease is crucial in Missouri. Bulls that produce calves that weigh 65-75 pounds are worth $1,000 more than bulls that calve at 85-95 pounds. Ideally, all my calves would weigh 80 pounds because of the boost in survivability,” explained Robb. To aid in calving ease all of their cows are pelvic checked.
Pitts Angus Farms has recently purchased interest in three up-and-coming bulls, Sitz Investment 660Z, Connealy Western Cut and Sydgen Fate 2800. Robb said, “These three bulls were all top-sellers in 2013. They are the freshest, newest bulls available right now. These are bulls we can breed every cow in the herd to and then breed their daughters to one of the other bulls. We will have the first calves out of these bulls this fall. We hope this sets us apart a little bit because people haven’t seen them yet. It’s a privilege to be connected to these opportunities. It opens up a lot of avenues for us.”
When it comes to bulls, cows or calves Pitts Angus Farms takes the time to develop them. “Anyone can feed cattle but not everyone can develop them with longevity in mind,” said Robb.
“With bull development we have concentrated limited intake. We want to see their genetic potential. We don’t full feed them they still have to graze. We build them around forage,” explained Robb. “Our bulls are kept in fesuce fields with shade and hills. They are expected to cover some territory and get exercise. We want to develop bulls that have a fresh, athletic look to them.
“One of the hardest things to do is to watch bulls and see what shape they are in. The bulls show which direction our program is headed,” Robb added.
The cows in the Pitts Angus program are not supplemented except during extreme drought conditions. “We do keep hay out year-round. The cows run on fescue pasture with crabgrass and clover. We give them a choice on what they eat,” said Robb.
Calves are pre-weaned at 45 days using creep feed that is a high protein/low starch ration, which allows the calves to wean better with a lot less sickness. “We don’t wean early,” explained Robb. “We wean June 1, because they will gain better when they are nursing and to take advantage of the lush spring grass.”
After the calves are weaned at 45-60 days Robb selects replacement females. Then at a year carcass evaluations are completed with approximately 20 percent culled out and sold as feeder cattle.
Herd health is a top priority on Pitts Angus Farms. “Our herd health program is very tedious but it’s very important. If you don’t have healthy animals you have nothing to sell,” explained Robb. Everything is vaccinated twice a year using the latest Vira Shield, Zoetis and Merial vaccines in addition to being dewormed and managed for flies.
Robb, a 2007 Missouri State University graduate, feels it is important to stay connected to the agriculture industry. Robb has been on the local Farm Service Agency board and on the Hickory County Farmers Mutual board for the past five years.
When it comes to running the farm, Robb couldn’t do it alone. His father, Maurice, and the rest of the Pitts family are an integral part of the operation. The Pitts family also owns Pitts Homes, Pitts Reality and Hermitage Lumber. Robb said, “The family carries all the load. My dad oversees all the operations on a day-to-day basis, my mom, Jan, makes sure everything is put together behing the scenes. Nothing would get done without their guidance.” Robb’s brother, Billy, plays a vital role in managing their businesses away from the farm so Maurice and Robb can focus majority of their efforts toward the Angus. Robb’s wife, Ashley, who works for the Hickory County Soil and Water Conservation District, is also very active on the farm. Robb and Ashley have two children, 4-year-old Whitley and 5-month-old Shiloh.
Ashley grew up raising and showing Angus cattle in Buffalo, Mo. “When Ashley brought her show expertise to the farm it changed the way we did things. It changed the way I look at the cattle. We now concentrated heavily on phenotype because cattle that look good are easy to sell. We still need carcass traits but now we make them a pretty package.”
Robb concluded, “We are developing a program where functionality and do-ablity are measured both mathematically and phenotypically.”