Ranching a long-time Sooner State tradition

Throughout our state’s history, ranching has been a foundation of the economy, tradition, and culture. 


The beginnings of Oklahoma ranching

Ranching started well before Oklahoma reached statehood in 1907, first by the Native American tribes who maintained herds as a way of feeding and clothing their families, as well as many other uses. Once white people started ranching in Oklahoma (estimated around the 1830s), ranching has always ranged from small family herds to massive herds that made it possible for entire towns to develop. 


Ranching’s history also has its darker side as the development of the European settlers’ cattle industry was made possible in part by the removal of several Native American tribes. The Civil War pretty largely decimated the Native cattle industry and the end of the Civil War ignited the beginning of what would become the modern cattle industry. 


From the time that Oklahoma became a state in 1907 to the mid-1980s, two major developments led to modernizing the cattle industry: the railroad and the invention of barbed wire. One allowed for establishing boundaries between properties and the other removed barriers by making it easier for professional ranches and family business ranchers to move their cattle to market. 


Throughout our state’s history, there has also often been a common theme in ranching that is based on geography. Western Oklahoma has traditionally been the larger, company-owned ranches and in Northeast Oklahoma, it’s been largely smaller but more numerous family cattle businesses. 


Working cattle

Today’s ranchers

Did you know that in Oklahoma, there are more cattle than people? Yet the human side of this industry is the most diverse. Each rancher, whether it’s a big operation or a small family business, each cattleman has a story. You can learn a lot about various ranchers on the Oklahoma Beef Council website.


Raising beef is a complex process, but throughout the entire journey, one thing remains constant – the shared commitment to raising cattle in a safe, humane and environmentally sustainable way by using the latest technology and resources. Currently, more than 700,000 cattle farms and ranches in the United States, with an average herd size of 40 cattle, produce 19 percent of the world’s beef,” the site reads. 


Like most industries, the cattle industry is always working to find more efficient, safer, and generally better ways to do their work. This includes everything from finding better ways to care for their animals to more their ranch operations more sustainable for the earth as well as future generations.

While the cowboy is the quintessential, long-time employee on a ranch, the industry has sparked many jobs. Take, for example, our own Jaqueline Bandy who did an FFA project on medication to vaccinate against bovine pinkeye. She wants to become a veterinarian and learn more about helping future ranches succeed. 


The ranching industry will need to continue evolving as technology advances and other cultural and economic changes take place. We are excited for the students in our programs who want to be a part of those changes!