Meet Ford Drummond

Located in the southern end of the Flint Hills in Osage County, Oklahoma, the Drummond Ranch has been a family-owned, cow-calf operation since the early 1900s, when Ford Drummond’s grandfather began their cattle business. Ford returned to the family ranch 25 years ago after a career in health care policy and law. Living and working in Washington, D.C., Ford and his wife Vanessa realized they wanted to raise their children back in Osage County, where his great-grandfather had emigrated from Scotland in the 1880s. So, that’s what they did, and it’s where their three children — Virginia, Frederick and Margaret — were reared.

On the Drummond Ranch, Ford raises cow-calf pairs, retains weaned calves to run as stockers, and has also diversified the cattle operation by contracting with the Bureau of Land Management as a long-term holding facility for wild horses to help control overgrazing in Western states.

What are the biggest challenges raising cattle in Osage County?

“Right now, our biggest challenge is Mother Nature and the weather,” Ford said. “We are in a historic drought. We haven’t had significant runoff on the ranch since last June and, in a typical year, we will get 34-36 inches of rain.”

Without dependable groundwater under the ranch, they are reliant on surface water for their cattle, and therefore, count on the rain to fill the ponds.

A unique challenge for landowners in Osage County is mineral rights. Landowners do not own the mineral rights — they are owned by the Osage Nation — which means the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Osage Tribe are the regulatory agencies for oil and gas production in Osage County.

“We try to negotiate and work with oil companies, but oil and gas drilling on the ranch is disruptive and damaging due to drilling locations, roads, pipelines, power lines, saltwater spills and more,” Ford explained. “I always tell the oil companies I just want to be treated the same way you would want to be treated if it were your land — and sometimes that helps.”

With resource fluctuations, high feed costs and increased inputs, Ford deals with the same challenges as most producers across the country, and he does what he can to make his cattle more valuable and efficient. Whether experimenting with hormone-free and individual ID premium programs, selling through local markets or online auctions, Ford tries to find the best market for his cattle.

Ford’s three children currently live off the ranch, pursuing degrees and careers outside of Oklahoma.

“The other challenge for me at this time is getting the next generation interested and involved in the ranch,” he said. “I try to keep my kids informed about what is happening on the ranch, and they all have ownership in the family business. I want them to have some skin in the game, since our ranch is part of their family heritage and legacy.”

What are the biggest benefits of ranching in Osage County?

The native tallgrass prairie plays a key role in the growth and health of their cattle. In a normal year, they will put their yearlings on the prairie grasslands for 90-100 days and see nearly 300 pounds of gain! And there are few urban pressures from nearby cities pushing ranchers off their land or skyrocketing the price of land, Ford added. And unlike many states, Oklahoma ranchers are well represented on policy issues that directly impact their businesses.

“We get a lot of support from our representatives,” Ford said. “Oklahoma is a very ag-friendly state, and we have good representation on our issues in the state and in Congress.”

How do you care for and steward your land?

Ford’s father, Frederick Drummond, was a founding member and chairman of the Oklahoma Nature Conservancy, and he helped develop the Oklahoma Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County. Frederick recognized the treasure of the native prairielands and made strides to ensure they would remain grazing lands for livestock. The Nature Conservancy bought a historic ranch in the county and has become partners with local landowners to preserve the land and to keep family ranches intact. The prairie preserve is used to run their 2,500-head bison herd, as well as leased to local cattle producers. Ford also served as chairman of the Conservancy.

“The Conservancy has helped show people that to have a healthy grassland, you need to have something grazing on it. It used to be bison, and now it’s cattle,” Ford added. “This area is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world, with only 4% of the original tallgrass prairie remaining. It’s the area where you are far enough east that you get good rainfall, and far enough west to be out of the eastern deciduous forest… It’s endangered because it’s the sweet spot to grow corn, soybeans and any number of row crops. The Flint Hills tallgrass prairie region has survived only because it was too rocky to plow.”

On his own ranch, Ford also implements practices to ensure the health and longevity of the land and soil.

“We do a lot of controlled burns around here, which is the way this land has been managed since pre-European settlement, by Native American tribes,” Ford said. “We love this land, and if you’ve been running a ranch for 100 years, that’s a pretty good definition of sustainable agriculture.”

How do you remain proactive on issues facing cattle producers?

Ford has served in numerous roles with local and state cattlemen’s associations. He is the past president of the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association, is a director of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, and is an active member of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association and NCBA.

Ford believes the saying “if you don’t have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu.” He takes advantage of these organizations where he can voice his concerns and knows action will be taken.

“It’s also a great way to connect with fellow ranchers. Ranching can be a solitary occupation and lifestyle,” Ford explained. “We all have different types of operations, but we all have very common issues, concerns and interests. And it’s always nice to be with other ranchers and their families on a social level.”

What is the future of Drummond Ranch?

Ford experienced firsthand the benefits of leaving the ranch to gain outside experiences, learn new technology and bring back fresh ideas. He did that with his father when he came back to Oklahoma after spending time in California and Washington, D.C., for college and his legal career. And he hopes one day his children will return to the ranch as well to continue the family legacy, bringing back ideas he might not have dreamed of trying.

“Sometimes you need someone to come back and look at things in a different way,” he explained. “That’s always a benefit of having a new generation return.”

In addition, Ford believes in the importance of improving the way ranching families communicate and promote themselves to consumers. With a surge of influence coming from technology and especially social media, Ford knows producers need to share their stories in new ways if they are going to change the perception of American agriculture, especially animal agriculture. For Ford, raising cattle in the grasslands of northern Oklahoma is a rewarding lifestyle and one he doesn’t want to see diminished.

“It is wonderful to be on your horse in the pasture at sunrise, riding through the tallgrass prairie to gather cattle with the cowboys, and then working together as a team. It is one of my favorite things,” he said. “I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to work with a great group of people in a beautiful setting.”