Ranching in Oklahoma is comparatively new compared to other states in the nation.
While the tribes that were relocated to Oklahoma brought cattle ranching with them in an attempt to maintain sovereignty, privately-held ranches were not common in the state until the 1890s. Before this time, most ranching by private owners was done through leased Indian land.
Between the signing of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889 and the induction of Oklahoma as the forty-sixth state in 1907, the land formerly known as “Indian territory” became a hub for ranching and homesteading. The rush of settlers attempting to make a new life for themselves on 160-acre parcels gave rise to the phrase “Sooner,” one of the population boomers trying to reach their desired claim sooner than the rest of the wagon train. The phrase stuck, giving Oklahoma its nickname “The Sooner State.”
Common Types of Ranches in Oklahoma
Cattle — Oklahoma has a rich history of cattle ranching. In the days before trucks or even train cars to move cattle from Texas to Kansas, ranchers and cowboys would graze their herds through the grasslands of Oklahoma. With rich native grasses and a history of creating new strains of cattle like the Brangus breed (a cross of brahmin and Angus), Oklahoma is still the second-largest producer of beef cattle in the nation and fourth in terms of cattle in general. With ranches of all sizes available for the purpose of cattle ranching and feeding, it’s obvious why cattle ranches are listed first.
Hunting — Oklahoma is a famous state for hunting with its abundance of wildlife. The state is ideal for sportsmen, from classic big game animals like deer and antelope to turkey and waterfowl. The patchwork of privately held ranches and large swaths of public land allows hunters to be selective in the areas they hunt while allowing ranch owners to make additional income from granting paid access to hunt their property. Ranches that incorporate land practices designed to increase the number and quality of game animals are a massive draw for both hunters and ranchers looking for a less volatile revenue stream. Sportsmen enjoy the lower hunting pressure associated with private ranches while relaxing after a day in the field at an established ranch house instead of a tent or hotel room.
Recreational — With the history of Oklahoma’s land run, some ranches in the state serve as a living history museum. The iconic hitching post ranch invites guests to ride stagecoaches, camp under the stars, and even participate in cattle drives. Other ranches in the state cater to guests looking to enjoy the outdoors without the pressures of tent camping. Staying in lodges and guesthouses on the ranch, guests can enjoy the views of a working cattle ranch or engage in leisure activities like horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, and bird watching.
Benefits of Buying or Starting a Ranch in Oklahoma
An unintended bonus of the 1889 landrush is that Oklahoma’s ranches are comparatively small and in greater numbers than many neighboring states. While a small ranch may not be ideal for crop-based agriculture, it is ideal for cattle ranching and recreational use. These smaller ranches also sit at a price point that is much easier for first-time ranchers to attain. Starting from scratch or purchasing an existing ranch, choosing to begin ranching in Oklahoma can take two forms. Each with its own sets of challenges and benefits.
Starting From Scratch
Like the original Sooners, a prospective rancher can begin a dream of owning their ranch. Doing so today is less fraught with peril than it was more than a century ago. Starting a ranch from the ground up requires purchasing considerable land with a specific goal in mind. Researching the best use for land in the area and then putting those practices into use is key to setting up a flourishing ranch. There is no doubt that serious energy, both physical and mental, will go into creating a ranch, but the satisfaction of creating a ranch of your own is well worth it for many buyers. Creating a home and a livelihood that a rancher can pass on for generations led the original homesteaders to Oklahoma and continues to today as well.
Purchasing an Existing Ranch
Selecting an established ranch takes some of the headaches out of making the ranching dream a reality. By working through a respected land broker, buyers can select ranches based on existing production or suggested land uses. Cattle ranches, as an example, can show the production rates and show an estimated income, allowing prospective buyers to factor their new income stream into their final decision. Purchasing an existing ranch also allows the new owner to continue on a legacy of land stewardship passed down from the previous owner. While the initial price tag may seem steeper, the trial and error of land management have already been smoothed out, making established ranches a great choice, especially for new ranchers.
Oklahoma is a state of incredible diversity and rich ranching history. Smaller properties excel at producing high-quality heads of cattle, growing trophy deer, and entertaining guests looking to get away from city life for a week. While the Sooner state may not be on the radar of Hollywood, it should be on the map for every rancher looking to create a livelihood working in tandem with the land.