Ag Pride 2022: Jed Kirby, Cattleman in the Making
Jed Kirby has a plan.
The fifth-generation cattle rancher from McCoy, Colorado, comes from a rich ranching heritage. However, the Soroco High School senior has ideas all his own. “In the summer of 2020 I was given the opportunity to purchase 20 pair of registered Wagyu cattle. I have now expanded that number to roughly 95 total by the end of the calving season. Also in 2020, I noticed a very evident shortage of available meat products in retail stores, so that’s how I started the meat sales company in which I buy and resell meat product to local consumers.”
Jed incorporated King Mountain Cattle, LLC to make this all happen.
The Kirby family ranch was homesteaded in 1910 and has run predominantly, Angus, Charolais and Simmental cattle ever since. Jed has learned most of what he knows about the agricultural industry and cattle business from his grandfather, LeRoy Kirby, father, Rick Kirby, and ag teacher, Jay Whaley.
While having a solid foundation in the knowledge of finishing Angus cattle, Wagyu requires its own special processes. Wagyu takes longer to mature, three to four years instead of the two years for other breeds. Until Kirby can finish out his first Wagyu, he bought some Angus steers to finish out. Also, he buys pork and lamb to sell through his direct to consumer meat business. Kirby is located about 45 minutes from Steamboat and 45 minutes from Vail. He has made the connections and is ready to start providing the high-end ski towns with a high-end beef experience.
Wagyu is known for its marbling. The cattle are black and look very similar Angus cattle. Angus reach peak marbling at two years, but Wagyu require an extra year or more. Jed has a specific feed ration for his Wagyu herd, entirely separate from the Angus feeder steers.
Jed’s ultimate goal is to be completely vertically integrated. He wants to control all decisions for breeding, calving, weaning, heifer and bull retention, finishing, butchering and retail sales.
When looking to buy his first Wagyu bull, he experienced a little bit of sticker shock. Wagyu bulls are expensive. That’s why it was so important Kirby do his homework first. “You don’t want to spend money on a mediocre bull,” he said. He was looking for something with a high marbling EPD, but he knew there was more to consider. “You run into problems when you only focus on one trait. Bulls need to be well-rounded on paper, but they also need to be able to move to cover the cows,” Jed said. Kirby bought his first bull at the first 100% Wagyu production sale in the United States.
Jed is excited about his first bull purchase, which will allow him to AI his own herd and sell semen out of a top-notch bull. He is working on building up his herd and is very interested in genetics and retaining high quality replacement heifers. He’s been focused on genetics and entertains thoughts of selling bulls, as well.
The Kirby family has two different ranch locations, so the cows graze as much of the year as possible. They put up all their own hay (mostly Timothy, some brome and some alfalfa) to feed through the winter.
Most high school seniors aren’t looking to spend the weekend on the ranch without cell service, but that’s where you’ll find Jed. He lives in a ranching community, so some of his classmates get it, but others don’t. This is his love. He grew up ranching. His grandpa and dad instilled the love of hard work, the love of the land, the love of cattle in him. The stars aligned when a nearby ranch was looking to sell some cows. He was in the right place at the right time with the right desire. Jed took a shot and hasn’t looked back since.
Jay Whaley, Jed’s FFA advisor, holds a special place in Jed’s quest for knowledge. While FFA is important, the education that takes place in the classroom is more important for Jed. Jed credits his advisor for broadening his horizons. Whaley taught him agriculture is much more than just production agriculture, that there’s so much more than just raising cows and farming. Kirby has done well in his Supervised Agriculture Experience programs, ending up second in the state for one of them. While the contests and awards are great, “agricultural education is what’s really important” Jed says.
After graduating high school, Jed plans to study meat science through an eight-month program at Bridgerland Technical College in Utah. Because he scored so high on tests, he won’t have to complete general education classes, but can instead focus on the meat program.
After finishing the program, Jed plans to return to South Routt County to open a USDA-inspected fabrication facility to serve his community and vertically integrate his own operation.
Jed is excited about the future. He’s happy to have gotten into the Wagyu market and is looking forward to learning more. He is taking lots of small steps to bring him back to his ultimate goal of returning to his community and fully integrating his cattle operation, and increasing the community’s access to high-quality beef, born, raised and processed locally.