Buford Ranch started with commercial cows
The Osage County Cattlemen’s Association’s annual ranch tour, held each Father’s Day weekend, featured six ranches this year. This column provides highlights of the Buford Ranch, the fifth tour stop, which featured Hereford heifers and calves. Sam Buford was interviewed for this stop, which was broadcast on AM radio station 1500.
“Originally, the Bufords purchased approximately 1,800 acres from the Craddock family, a neighboring Osage County ranching family,” Sam Buford said. “At the time of the original land purchase, the family also was able to lease approximately 9,000 acres from various other landowners. Over the past 77 years, we’ve been able to steadily grow the ranch to its present size of about 14,000 deeded acres and about 2,000 leased acres.
“Buford Ranches is the operating company that operates the ranches. It was formed by my brother, Stephen Buford, and my sister, Sharon Linsenmeyer and myself [Sam Buford] when our mother, D. J. Petit, and her brother, John R. Duncan, decided to retire from the ranching business.
“When we purchased the cow herd about 21 years ago … commercial cows made up the entirety of the ranch. Since that time, we’ve divided the ranch into about three different sections — one of which is still the commercial cow herd. And the commercial cow herd has always been the backbone of Buford Ranches.
“Since that time, we’ve added registered Hereford cattle, and they’re managed by the current manager of the ranch, Doug Branch. Doug grew up on a Hereford ranch south of Pawnee County.
“Then, in addition to that, we have part of the ranch reserved to take care of wild mustangs for the Bureau of Land Management.
“The registered Hereford cattle were actually started in Welch, Okla., at one of our other ranches. At that time we were partners with John Jones from Lexington, Ky., and we had registered Angus and registered Brangus cattle. After about four or five years into that partnership, Mr. Jones wanted to also try to acquire some Herefords, and we were able to find two cow herds in Cheyenne, Wyo.,” Buford said.
“At both of those ranches we were able to sort the cows we wanted, and, essentially, we got a big head start on our Hereford venture by being able to acquire the best genetics from two long-time, proven herds. Despite the genetic head start we got, … the Hereford program struggled for several years because, in all honesty, it took a back seat to our registered Angus cattle herd. In Welch we had always sold registered Angus cattle, and the people that ran the ranch up there — that’s where they had their experience.
“When we made the decision to move the registered Angus cows to Osage County on the Duncan Ranch and put Doug in charge of that program, we immediately saw improvements in weaning weights, yearling weights, cow confirmation, udder quality, disposition and just several other things that are hard to quantify. Over the past few years, as I steadily saw the registered Hereford herd getting better and better, it made me want to do more for Doug. And so, we made a commitment to spend money on better genetics, and we’ve gone to the northern part of the U.S. in Montana and North Dakota, and we’ve revamped our herd bull battery. We’ve tried to buy the absolute best horn Hereford bulls that can be found anywhere. Those decisions have paid immediate dividends and the cow herd has improved the last two years than the previous five.
On the ranch the caravan of vehicles wound its way uphill to a red corral at the top where the tourists viewed a mature set of herd Hereford cows with spring bull calves born in late February or early March.
“We’ll pull them off their mothers in late October, and they’re going to average in the high sevens to low eights. We’ll have some bull calves that hit 850 to 900 pounds. The heifer calves are going to be about 50 to 75 pounds back on those weights and we’re really not worried about pushing those heifers. We’re not having any Hereford-female sales right now. We’re just trying to slowly develop them in a manner that’s best for the Hereford females.
“After we wean those calves, they’re going to stay on the ranch for 60 to 90 days. We’ll get them good and straightened out. We’ll straighten the horns on up on the bull calves. We’ll sort which registered Hereford heifers we want to keep and put back in the herd. At that that point the Hereford heifers will stay in Hominy, and we’ll send the Hereford bull calves up to Welch, and they’ll go on feed with our registered Angus bull calves,” Buford said.
Buford described their sale program.
“We’ve always sold 18- to 20-month bulls, so once the bulls leave Hominy, and the Angus bull calves come off the Angus mothers in Welch, we’ll develop those calves for ten to 12 months; then we’ll sell them as an 18- to 20-month bull calf either in the fall or the spring.
The grass in the pastures is important for optimizing the cattle’s heath and weight.
“As you drive through the ranch you’re going to be driving through native grass pastures. You’re going to be looking at a four-grass mix: big blue, little blue, Indian grass and switch grass,” Buford said. “Due to the terrain on the ranch, we’re forced to spray the ranch with either an airplane or a helicopter. We do quite a bit of spot spraying with a ground rig, but 95 percent of the land we need to spray through aerial means.
There are certain weeds that they work continously to eradicate, being mindful of their neighbors.
“We go to great lengths to try to be good to our neighbors to make sure that we don’t spray them, and we’re constantly watching wind direction and what kind of chemicals we use and how warm it is when we spray. We like to spray most of our pastures about every other year.
“Along with good grass, we’ve also tried to keep our money in roads and water. The cattle need good water. … We’ve spent a lot of money cleaning out ponds, building new ponds.
“In addition to that we’ve spent quite a bit of money on corrals and fences, and we’ve tried to make it that a cowboy can take care of a greater number of cows, but do a better job of it, even though the number of cows he’s taking care of keeps increasing.
Buford named the ranch cowboys.
“We’ve been so fortunate that we haven’t had hardly any turnover in the last 21 years. The longest tenured employee would be Carol Ray. He worked for our family for many, many years before we took over in 1997. He was our foreman until just a couple of years ago. Carol still works for the ranch.
“We have Jackie Joe Donaldson and John Holloway, and they run the west ranch about ten miles west of the Duncan Ranch and that ranch used to be called the Bledsoe Ranch. We still refer to the original owners, so we still call that the Bledsoe Ranch. We have two cowboys that work over there.
“We also have George Henry and Riley Holloway.”
“We have asked a lot out of all these cowboys, Buford said. “They go to all of the other ranches in Adair and Vinita or Welch to help on projects up there or cattle working up there as well. And we also farm near the Arkansas River. We have a wheat pasture where we put our replacement heifers on wheat every year.
“We could not be in business without quality of the people that we have that work for us,” he said with admiration.
Tour attendees saw a set of black, baldy-bred heifers to be calved in the fall.
“There is a bull on them … we put a bull on them early summer to catch anything that didn’t bred to be a fall calver. These black, white face heifers are a cross between a Hereford and Angus genetics, and we believe that the baldy heifers make the best cows,” Buford explained.
“The ranch tour also showed a set of black-white baldy heifers, a set of mature Hereford cows with calves at their side and a set of yearling Hereford replacement heifers.
“These heifers are about 14-mos. old, and they should calve about the middle of next February. Buford’s sister, Sharon’s children, held cattle at one of the stops,” he said.
Buford is looking to the fourth generation of Bufords to continue the ranch.
“I also have two children, Audrey and Jacob. We think that among the six kids, there’s a great opportunity that the ranch can continue in the family in the future.”