Ben and Nita Houston to receive Friend of the National Western Stock Show honors

Dec 24, 2009
by WLJ

Ask Ben Houston how many cattle he’s raised over the years on his central Weld County ranch and he just smiles. “Too many,” he said.

Houston, and his wife of 59 years, Nita, have owned the Aristocrat Angus Ranch west of Platteville, CO, since 1965. But that is only part of the reason they will be named the 2010 Friend of the National Western Stock Show by the Red Meat Club of Denver at the stock show next month.

Mike Thoren, CEO of JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding of Greeley, CO, will be the guest speaker at this year’s dinner, which will be in the National Western Club at 6 p.m., Jan. 14.

Ben and Nita are natives of northeast Weld County. He was born and raised on the family’s Angus ranch south of Buckingham, CO; she grew up in New Raymer, CO, where her parents owned and operated the Lambert Drug Store for several years.

“I started making and serving sodas at the soda fountain when I was 10 years old,” Nita said, noting with a smile that today’s youngsters wouldn’t even know what a soda fountain was.

Ben’s parents had homesteaded in Phillips County south of Holyoke, CO, before buying the ranch in northeast Weld. He attended school at Buckingham until the ninth grade, then stayed with family friends in Sterling, CO, where he graduated from high school.

Ben was the youngest of the seven children of Walter and Minnie Houston, pioneer Angus cattle breeders; Nita was the youngest of five children. He exhibited his first Angus steer, with his father, at the National Western in 1938, and that was to eventually lead to a long association with the National Western, considered the Super Bowl of livestock shows.

After Ben and Nita were married in 1950, he spent four years in the Air Force. An older brother, a bombardier/navigator, was killed during the Korean War and while in the service, Ben attended the University of Illinois. When they returned to Weld, he managed Angus and Polled Hereford ranches before he and Nita bought the Platteville ranch.

By that time, he had developed his keen eye for quality cattle. Just three years after establishing the ranch, he took the bull Nobelman to grand champion honors at the International Livestock Show in Chicago, IL. He called the bull “one of the best ones we’ve had,” but by far not the only one.

Black Revolution was the grand champion bull in 1971 and Ankonian Catalyst in 1973 at the National Western. Then, for five consecutive years, Aristocrat had the grand champion or reserve champion carcass at the National Western Fed Beef Contest, and, in 1994, the ranch had a pen of five steers that were named supreme champions over 50 sire groups representing 19 breeds from nine states at the Great Western Beef Expo.

In 1976, Ben was elected to the executive committee of the National Western and in 1985, he was elected president of that group, which is responsible for the operation of the show. He continues as chairman emeritus of the committee.

At about the same time, Nita, along with Nancy Petry, took over the committee that plans and stages the annual Citizen of the West gala, which, since 1978, has honored those who demonstrate Western heritage and way of life. The event has raised, annually, in excess of $100,000 for college scholarships.

“We take care of every single detail, right down to the color of the napkins,” Nita said of her committee.

Ben was a Citizen of the West in 1995, joining other Weld notables such as Kenny Monfort, W.D. Farr and Hank Brown, and was inducted into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame in 1996. He has also won several other awards and honors such as having his portrait hung at the Saddle and Sirloin Club Portrait Gallery in Louisville, KY, in 2002.

Aristocrat Angus Ranch added its own embryo transplant barn in 1982 where research is conducted regularly in association with Colorado State University, an affiliation Houston strongly believes in.

In 1992, the ranch began a business venture with Ukraine and helped that country build its cattle industry. The ranch has sent live cattle as well as semen and embryos to the eastern European nation. Exports have also been made to Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, Argentina and Costa Rica, and the ranch is a regular host to international visitors. — WLJ