Coblentz family farm grew slowly, but surely despite industry challenges

Betty Thompson Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry
Ellen Coblentz and her family at Christmas. From left, Adam, Anthony, Charles, Ellen, Priscila and Charlie. Coblentz is being recognized as a Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture. Submitted

CHOUTEAU — If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.

That is the approach that has kept Ellen Coblentz and her family’s farming operation successful despite the challenges of the industry.

Coblentz was not raised in agriculture, though you would never know that, given her knowledge of the industry and passion for farming. She was raised in the small Oklahoma town of Pryor. Her grandparents had a farm, where Coblentz said she spent as much time as she could.

“When I was a little girl, I told my grandmother I would marry a farmer,” Coblentz laughed. “But I said he was going to be raising horses. We have never owned a horse the whole time we’ve been married.”

She married Charles Coblentz in 1975, just two weeks after graduating high school and the two began their farm with 120 acres leased from Charles’ mother and his 28 milk cows.

“When I got married, I wanted to be with my husband, so I went outside and learned how to work,” Coblentz said.

Like any successful business, they did not grow into the operation they are today overnight. It took years of hard work and innovative thinking. Today, they are milking over 400 cows on a total of 10,000 acres owned and leased.

“We grew slowly and surely,” Coblentz said. “Before we built the new milking barn, it was easily 10-12 hours of milking a day.”

One of the largest expenses for any farming operation is input costs, especially for dairies. She and Charles decided they could cut feed costs by introducing crops to their farm.

“We were able to start raising crops and blending our own feed for our dairy cows,” Coblentz said. “When you grow in farming you have to introduce a cash crop as well to help pay for everything, so that’s how we started to grow into the farming side of things.”

A few years later, they evaluated their next biggest input costs and decided they could save money if they had their own see, fertilizer and chemical business. They began Coblentz Fertlilizer in 1990.

“It just snowballed down the hill,” Coblentz said. “It’s easier to keep growing after you reach that first ‘big’ financially.”

Their oldest son got married and moved back to the farm in 2000, a year later he had convinced them to introduce beef cattle to the operation. They began their beef herd with about 80 “mama cows,” which has now grown to over 1,000 “mama cows.”

For the first 21 years of their marriage, she was in the milking parlor. After they built the new parlor in 2011, Coblentz transitioned to feeding and caring for the calves, morning and night.

“We have a milk wagon where we mix up their milk,” Coblentz explained, “Calves that are under a week old are still on a bottle, but after that we put them on the bucket.”

One of her favorite things about feeding the calves is getting to be outside and enjoy the beauty of nature.

“You see a lot of beautiful sunrises and sunsets when you’re out feeding calves,” Coblentz said.

In addition to caring for the calves, Coblentz stays extremely busy with bookkeeping for their operation, something that she comes by naturally.

“When I was in the fourth grade I was elected Girl Scout treasurer because my mom worked at the bank,” Coblentz explained. “So I learned how to balance a check book in the fourth grade and it all just came naturally.”

Unsurprisingly, Coblentz manages all of the records and paperwork for their cattle, crops and Coblentz Fertilizer. Their customer base of over 300 keeps Coblentz plenty busy.

“That was just a gradual grow,” Coblentz said. “If someone had thrown me into what I have today 20 years ago, I would have been mind-boggled.”

The biggest struggle she said they have on their farm is time. Farming and dairying is an everyday job—there is no taking off for vacation or sleeping in just because it is the holidays, the work still has to be done.

“The holidays for example, everyone tries to hurry up and feed all the cattle, come in, eat lunch, and then have maybe two hours before you have to go back out and start again,” Coblentz said.

For Coblentz, family is the most important thing. She is the proud mother of four children: Priscilla, Charlie, Adam and Anthony, and seven grandchildren.

“As far as I’m concerned, my kids are my greatest accomplishment,” Coblentz said.

All three of their sons came back to the family farm after graduating from college, and now, their own children are helping out on the farm.

Her dedication and work ethic have made an impact on others in the dairy industry as well.

“Ellen is the backbone of our farming community,” said Logan Courtney, fellow dairyman and neighbor of Coblentz. “She is always willing to lend a hand or give helpful advice to anyone who needs it.”