No Man’s Land, it was called, that 34-mile-wide strip of Oklahoma Territory that separated Kansas and the Texas Panhandle. But while the original nickname referred to its place on a map, No Man’s Land could — at times — also have aptly described the harsh elements encountered by the men and women who ventured there seeking opportunity.
James K. Hitch was among the first to recognize the opportunities in the Oklahoma Panhandle, and when he began running cattle and building a ranch in the area in 1884 the grazing was open range. By the early 1920s, Hitch had acquired more than 30,000 acres. Subsequent generations of Hitch family members have built on J.K.’s original holdings, and today the Hitch name is synonymous with ranching, cattle feeding and business entrepreneurship in the Oklahoma Panhandle.
Yet, without the vision of H.C. “Ladd” Hitch Jr. the family might never have ventured into cattle feeding. Ladd is generally credited with launching the family feeding business and, in fact, had to convince his father, Henry C. Hitch, that feeding cattle could be done successfully on the High Plains.
“His father made him put the feedlot on some crummy ground,” says Ladd’s grandson, Chris Hitch, now president of Hitch Enterprises. “He didn’t want it to eat up their good grazing grass. That was a blessing because it is on a caliche knob so the drainage is really good, and you don’t have a lot of soil, so you don’t have a lot of mud. You can clean up the pens when it rains and snows like it did last winter.”
Former Texas Cattle Feeders Association CEO Charlie Ball wrote about Ladd Hitch’s cattle feeding beginnings in his book, The Finishing Touch.
“In 1952, the Hitches sent some of their own ranch cattle to a custom feedyard in Arizona and later observed that the feedyard was purchasing its grain from the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles. ‘They bought our cattle and they bought our grain,’ Ladd said, ‘and the only asset they had was a little better winter weather for feeding cattle.’ ”
According to The Finishing Touch, the Hitches constructed their first four feeding pens the very next year. “This was the beginning of Henry C. Hitch Feedlot, which expanded to 1,000-head capacity in 1955, and to 5,000 by 1958.” Henry C. Hitch Feedlot is now 50,000-head capacity.
Ball wrote that Ladd Hitch “led a company of nine investors to build Texas County Feedyard at Guymon. Two years later a Hitch-led group built Master Feeders (now called Hitch Feeders I).” Master Feeders had an original capacity of 16,000 but was expanded in 1974 to its present capacity of 60,000.