Hitch Pork Producers Inc.
For more than a century, Hitch Pork Producers Inc. (Hitch Pork) has been family-owned and –operated by the Hitch family in Guymon, Okla. Although Hitch Pork has only been in pork production for the past 20 years, the family’s roots run deep in ranching and cattle farming across the Southwest.
“The Hitch family company was established in 1884,” reveals Mike Brandherm, now vice president and general manager of Hitch Pork. “The family-owned operation started with farming and ranching, then being early adopters and innovators of large scale cattle feed lots and crop irrigation was what really allowed it to grow.”
In 1884, James K. Hitch drove a herd of longhorn cattle from Kansas to the Texas Panhandle region and eventually settled in Guymon, where the company still resides today. Back when ranchers made the rules of the land, the Hitch family could let their cattle graze in any direction, holding down as much ground as they could claim.
Ranchers to Pork Producers
For the next 70 years James and his son, Henry C. Hitch, herded cattle across Panhandle range. The family tradition continued in 1953 when James’ grandson, H.C. “Ladd” Hitch Jr., opened one of the Southwest’s first large-scale cattle feeding operations. The 2,000-head facility near the Hitch family’s original homestead became known as the Henry C. Hitch Feedlot and eventually grew to house more than 52,000 head of cattle.
“It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Hitch family entered the pork industry,” shares Brandherm. “I joined the company in 1995 to help launch Hitch Pork.”
Growing up on a small family farm in Illinois with hogs and cattle, Brandherm entered the agricultural world at an early age. “I’ve been in the industry for a long time,” he notes. “I spent 12 years of my career with a swine genetics company and in 1993, went to work for Seaboard Farms to help them start up their live hog operations. The Hitch family hired me a couple of years later.”
Since becoming part of the Hitch Pork family, Brandherm has built the operation from the ground up. “The original plan was to start out with 5,000 sows to produce approximately 100,000 hogs to market annually, but the family decided the time to grow was now and to utilize the land,” he reveals. “We bumped up the plan to 15,000 sows to grow approximately 300,000 market hogs annually and we’ve stayed at about the same level ever since.”
Today, Brandherm remains one of the key players in Hitch Pork’s hog business, and Jason and Chris Hitch oversee the operations as co-owners and CEOs. “We cover a 40-square-mile range through Oklahoma and Texas,” details Brandherm. “We’ve built our hog farms in a very strategic manner to optimize efficiency since we have to combat higher grain prices than other parts of the country.”
Brandherm goes on to note that Hitch Pork set up our farms in the corners of the field that would normally not be irrigated,” continues Brandherm. “We realized we could use this to our benefit along with the center pivot irrigation of the fields. The system was already in place so it was an efficient way to set it up.”
With farms in close proximity, Hitch Pork has a competitive advantage in transportation, shipping, labor and environmental costs. “Our efficiencies in trucking and transport, along with great production numbers, sets us apart from our competitors,” adds Brandherm.
However, Brandherm says that optimum efficiency isn’t the company’s only key to success. “We employ 150 individuals and we have an exceptionally low turn-over rate,” he reveals. “In fact, when we started the pork division we came up with a hiring slogan: Hitch treating employees like family for more than 100 years.”
People and Partnerships
Brandherm says it’s the company’s loyal team that really makes the wheels turn at Hitch Pork, and the company believes in building a positive work environment in return. “This isn’t the easiest industry to make a living in,” he explains. “We staff our farms with more hands on deck than the average large-scale farm, because we want to ensure that our people aren’t overworked. We also have a weekend rotation so no single person gets stuck continuously working those shifts.”
Not only is Hitch Pork’s operation labor intensive, it is also uncertain at times. “Risk management is hugely important to us and really anyone in the agricultural world because it’s a feast-or-famine type industry; you’re either making or losing a lot of money,” explains Brandherm. “Several years ago, we were looking for a better way to do risk management and we heard about CIH, met with them and were really impressed. Their margin management approach is all online and it helps you figure out what’s going on in the market and simplify risk management decisions. It’s a really useful tool for us and it remains an important aspect of our business.”
While the company continues to try to manage the ups and downs of farming, Brandherm says Hitch Pork continues to see excellent production. “Disease is always a concern, but we work well with our consulting veterinarians and health care providers,” he shares. “You win some battles and you lose some, but we keep healthy pigs and have managed to maintain good growth rates.”
With production going strong, Brandherm foresees a 10 to 15 percent expansion in the future for Hitch Pork. “We’re going to be adding more hogs in Texas with a new 1,200 sow multiplier,” he reveals. With expansion in sight, Hitch Pork Producers Inc. reflects on a 130-year history, building an extended family of loyal employees and healthy animals.