On paper, Patrick Montgomery had no business starting a farm. In 2017, the year he established KC Cattle Co., the then-27-year-old former U.S. Army Ranger had recently returned from two tours in Afghanistan.
“The closest thing I had to farming experience was bucking hay in high school,” Montgomery says with a laugh.
But what Montgomery did have was a vision, coupled with unbridled optimism and a deep sense of purpose. He wanted to honor his family, including his sister Colleen’s husband, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Katzenberger, a fellow Army Ranger who was killed in combat while Montgomery was also actively deployed. Today, Montgomery’s prime American Wagyu cattle, raised and cared for by his all-veteran staff, have been featured by The New York Times and on NBC’s Today show, and Montgomery has amassed a customer base across the country.
Long before he began researching cattle breeds, though, Montgomery was just another kid studying at Parkville South High School in Parkville, Missouri. After graduating in 2008, he enlisted in the Army, and two years later, he earned a slot with the elite First Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. He quickly became a valued asset to his regiment, serving as team leader for a weapons squad and sniper in special ops. Then, on June 14, 2011, tragedy struck Montgomery’s family when Katzenberger was killed in a firefight while pursuing a high-value target in Afghanistan. Montgomery accompanied Katzenberger’s body back to his sister in Missouri.
“That definitely changed me for the rest of my life,” Montgomery says. “Trying to find your next step after something like that happens is difficult. But it was perhaps the biggest honor of my life to be able to [bring him home].”
Following the funeral, Montgomery returned to active duty in Afghanistan. He says, however, that darkness followed him for some time after Katzenberger’s passing.
“I made some pretty big mistakes,” he says.
Yet Montgomery’s family, including his wife, Kaleigh, stood by him. When it came time to decide whether or not to re-enlist, Kaleigh encouraged him to consider a future outside of the military. He chose to enroll at the University of Missouri under what’s most commonly known as the GI Bill; there, he studied animal science, and took courses in animal husbandry, chemistry, crop rotation and finance. He began to think about what he would do once he was finished, and his thoughts kept returning to running his own farm, working with animals and being outside. He researched his options, and wrote a business plan. KC Cattle Co. was born.
Montgomery admits that he was naive about many things when he started the business, but he knew from the beginning that this was a difficult industry, and that he had to offer something unique if KC Cattle Co. was to stand any chance of survival.
“I wanted to do this full time, and it’s damn near impossible to make a living doing this as a cow-calf operation,” he says. “[With typical cattle], you have to be running a few thousand head to make it – a lot of guys around here have 200 head of cattle and then have a full-time job on top of that.”
Montgomery knew that to achieve the profit margins he needed from a small operation, he had to sell directly to consumers. He also needed a very special product – and that’s where his American Wagyu cattle come in.
Montgomery bought lush, beautiful and hilly land just northwest of Kansas City in Weston, Missouri. The area is rich with stately homes with lavish views, but there are still many farms nearby, including the celebrated Green Dirt Farm, just a quarter of a mile down the road from KC Cattle Co. Montgomery says that he’s grateful for the support he’s received from his neighbors, who are happy to see a young farmer enter the industry. They offer him help and advice, including on how to deal with the weather, which for Montgomery’s two full seasons in business have alternated between droughts and flooding.
At any given time, Montgomery keeps about 50 to 60 head of cattle on his property. He keeps both American Wagyu – the only difference from Japanese Wagyu is geography – as well as hybrid (50 percent American Wagyu and 50 percent Angus).
In Japan, Wagyu beef is defined as cattle consisting of four distinct Japanese breeds: Japanese Black (Tajima-Gyu); Japanese Brown (Akiyushi); Japanese Polled and Japanese Shorthorn (the latter are not available outside of Japan). The cows are prized for their abundant intramuscular fat, which has a lower melting point and imparts a buttery, tender texture when cooked.
Most of the product he sells comes from the hybrid cattle, which is more affordable than 100 percent Wagyu beef, but still of a noticeably high quality. He sells product from the full-blood cattle by request.
Montgomery takes a lot of pride in how he raises his cattle. They live almost their entire lives on pasture, and their diet is supplemented with grain when they mature. They never ingest steroids, and Montgomery maintains a stress-free environment, which he says is critical to keeping his animals happy – and happy animals make for great beef.
“A lot of it has to do with cortisol,” he explains, describing the hormone that spikes in mammals as a response to stress. “If you kind of think about it like a bodybuilder using heavy weights, they have a lot of cortisol running through their bodies [and too much can be bad for your health]. That muscle is going to be a lot tougher. It’s the same thing with cattle: If they’re in a stressful environment where they sense they are in danger, their cortisol levels go up and stay up. You get a tougher product.”
To maintain a low-stress environment, Montgomery and his staff do not use cattle prods or lassos. They “bucket train” the cows so the animals associate humans with food, and want to be around their handlers. You can see this at the farm – the cattle gravitate toward Montgomery and his staff. The cows are generally easygoing and pleasant. This creates a calm feedback loop that, in turn, further relaxes Montgomery and his staff.
And one of the hallmarks of KC Cattle Co. is the staff, which is solely made up of veterans, including two regular full-time workers and a rotating handful of crew members. Montgomery says that while this seems like a natural move for him now, he happened on hiring veterans almost by accident.
“When I started this up, I loved it – I loved the challenge of starting a business,” he says. “It’s so pretty here, it’s tough to have a bad day. I just figured if I loved this, maybe other [veterans] would too.”
Zeph Martinez, one of KC Cattle Co.’s full-time employees, reinforces that Montgomery’s instincts about hiring veterans were spot-on. Martinez served in the Army from 2010 to 2015, about the same time as Montgomery. He was a 19D Cavalry Scout who performed battlefield reconnaissance for his superiors. Like Montgomery, Martinez served two tours overseas, including one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He met Montgomery through a Kansas City-based organization called War Horses for Veterans, which provides equine therapy for service members. The two instantly connected.
Asked what is most meaningful about working for a veteran-owned company, Martinez responds without hesitation. “I love the camaraderie,” he says. “I lost that when I left the military, and that’s really the huge factor for me, to be around guys who understand the way you think about things, and to be around guys who have the same work ethic.”
Martinez also loves the beauty of the farm, and says it’s beneficial for him to be in this intentionally low-stress environment. He notes that cattle can sense stress in humans, and their behavior will change when they sense it. Martinez says when he sees the cattle pick up on his stress, it helps him modify his own behavior.
“It helps you hone in, and helps with being able to control yourself and control your emotions,” Martinez says.
Most of KC Cattle Co.'s products are sold directly to customers who purchase the company’s steaks, briskets, roasts, burgers and even summer sausage from its website. (Products are processed at Paradise Locker Meats in Trimble, Missouri.) A handful of local restaurants serve KC Cattle Co. products, including Noah’s Cupboard and Tin Kitchen, both in Weston. Montgomery supplies relatively few restaurants, favoring building a few very strong relationships with chefs rather than trying to sell in bulk.
Andrea Martinkovic, who co-owns Noah’s Cupboard alongside her husband, chef Nick Martinkovic, is effusive in her praise of KC Cattle Co. and its products. “All of Pat’s beef tastes great – there’s a noticeable difference in the way KC Cattle Co.’s beef tastes, cooks and stands out in the dishes we use this product in. We also chose it for the company’s ethics, what they stand for, how they help veterans, and that it’s hyper-local to Weston.”
"The meat is delicious,” Nick adds. “It has the right amount of marbling and fat, which lends to the delicious beefy flavor our guests rave about. Some Wagyu can be too fatty, but Pat's meat has the perfect ratio.”
On the Noah’s Cupboard menu, you can find osso bucco and short ribs made with KC Cattle Co. beef served with organic polenta and roasted local carrots. Down the road at Tin Kitchen, owner Sean O’Malley uses KC Cattle Co. ground beef in his burgers.
Late last year, the Montgomerys welcomed a son, Jeremy, named in honor of Montgomery’s late brother-in-law. Montgomery plans to continue hiring veterans, and wants to continue to learn and grow his business. He hopes that someday he might be able to pass KC Cattle Co. down to his son. In the meantime, he encourages home cooks far and wide to consider supporting small, pasture-raised farms like his.
“With us, you get that farm-to-table experience, and we work with people who have the same ethics we do,” Montgomery says. “You don’t have to worry about your sourcing. I think we just want people to know that we’re right here.”
KC Cattle Co., Weston, Missouri, kccattlecompany.com