It was a warmer-than-usual January day and Pete Bonds sat atop his horse, rope in one hand and rein in the other, keeping a watchful eye on his cattle.
Cowboys were branding calves, vaccinating them and attaching ear tags that contain electronic IDs. Young bulls were castrated.
The scene, aided by nature’s unforgiving smell of money and a working windmill, played out on the Bonds Ranch in northwest Tarrant County, not far from the sprawling subdivisions of Saginaw and north Fort Worth.
This is the Fort Worth they call “Cowtown,” and Bonds could not have been happier.
“This is the fun part of ranching,” Bonds said. “This is my golf.”
The cattleman will be honored at Fort Worth Stock Show on Thursday, when he receives the W.A. Bill King Award for Excellence in Agriculture award at the annual Livestock Appreciation Day Luncheon.
“Pete has been a tireless advocate for the ranching industry,” said Brad Barnes, president and general manager of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. “We’re excited that he’s being honored at our Livestock Appreciation Day Luncheon. It’s a well-deserved honor to someone who lives and breathes ranching and the beef industry.”
Bonds, 64, who has expanded the family’s ranching reach far beyond Tarrant County, said he is honored to receive the award.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done,” Bonds said. “We’ve grown it from 400 cows to one of the biggest cattle companies in the nation.”
‘Treat it like a business’
Bonds’ cattle business is diverse, including cow-calf, stocker and beef-feeding (or feedlot) operations. His family also raises quarter horses and has a 5,000-acre ranch near Marlin, a 6,000-acre ranch in Canadian and a 30,000-acre ranch in New Mexico. Bonds Ranch also leases land in Florida, Georgia, Misssissippi, Oklahoma, Arizona, Iowa and Nebraska.
Running Bonds Ranch is an all-consuming passion; Bonds estimates he’s on the road about a third of the year.
The family business started in 1933 when his father, P.R. “Bob” Bonds, purchased 5,000 acres from the Hicks Ranch. Bob Bonds would die when little Pete was 2 years old, leaving him to be mentored by the ranch foreman, Pete Burnett, whom he describes as “pure cowboy.”
Despite his early introduction to a Western lifestyle, Bonds is anything but nostalgic about cowboys and cattle.
“The main thing is treat it like a business,” Bonds said. “A lot of people look at it as a way of life and it’s not. It’s a strict-running business.”
With its headquarters in Saginaw, Bonds Ranch currently has about 1,000 acres in Tarrant County.
But Bonds said the acreage will continue to shrink over time — again, because it’s a business.
“The land is going to go to its highest and best use — we’ll eventually sell more of it,” Bonds said. “In my lifetime, we’ll always have our headquarters here if for no other reason than it’s hard to get good office staff in Podunk, Texas.”
‘I’m an old dog’
Bonds, who just wrapped his term as president of the Fort Worth-based Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said he’s always been open to new ideas in the cattle industry, including technological advancements, even if he doesn’t learn them himself.
Take those electronic ear tags, which allow the beef from those calves to eventually be sold in Europe, for example. Bonds heard about them a dozen or so years ago and turned to his daughter, Missy, to make the system work.
Missy Bonds was honored in 2013 with the Mitzi Lucas Riley Award, which recognizes young professionals who promote and preserve Western heritage through education and volunteerism.
“Ironically, my father is an early adopter of technology but he does not want to learn how to use the technology,” said another daughter, April Bonds. “He says ‘I’m an old dog. I’m not going to change my ways, but — hey — you girls — you go learn it.’ He always had an open mind.”
That has helped as all three of his daughters come back to ranching. Missy and April both work at Bonds Ranch, while their sister Bonnie Anderson is married and works with her husband, Clint Anderson, on their ranch in southeastern Colorado.
“He is very encouraging in a male-dominated industry,” April Bonds said. “To have three daughters come back to ranching that can hold their own — it says a lot about his character.”
His wife, Jo, a former ballerina, runs her own business, Jo Bonds Dance Studio, in Saginaw.
‘A lot of pride in this ranch’
Bonds believes education is critical to running a ranch. He graduated from TCU’s Ranch Management Program in 1973 and received a bachelor of business administration degree at TCU two years later.
In a 2011 article in Beef Magazine — he was honored that year with the National Stocker Award — Bonds explained that he wasn’t in the cattle business, but a business that involved cattle.
“I have a lot of kids ask me what they should do,” Bonds said. “My standard answer is go get an MBA from Stanford or Harvard and then come back and do ranch management at TCU, but nobody has taken me up on it yet.”
He believes the cattle industry is in far better shape than it was in 2011, when the state was stuck in a drought. The dry conditions forced Bonds to relocate cattle to Central and South Texas.
“You don’t ever get to maximum,” Bonds said. “You always have Plan B. If it gets dry here, where can we go? What can we do? I’m very fortunate that we have scattered holdings. It’s going to be wet somewhere.”
He’s already taken steps to ensure the ranch survives after he’s gone. He’s been estate planning since his daughters were born and they plan to keep the ranch going.
“The great part is Missy and I are here. We work on the ranch every day,” April Bonds said. “We have very different skill sets. Her strengths are my weaknesses and my strengths are her weaknesses. She and I work really, really well together. We both have a lot of pride in the 85 years this ranch has been around and we want to make sure it’s around for another 50 years.”