E.W. and Shirley Peper were honored with the 2012 Mayes County Farm Family of the Year award

It’s no surprise to the Peper family that the clan’s patriarch and matriarch, E.W. and Shirley, were named Mayes County Farm Family of the Year. “I know that my dad sure worked hard his whole life,” said Angela Root, the couple’s daughter.
Over a half-century of hard work paid off publicly when the Mayes County Fair Board unanimously nominated and approved the Peper (pronounced pepper) family to receive its 2012 honor.
“They bale all of the hay they use on the ranch and custom bale for a few others,” the board said in a proclamation. “The ranch has incorporated agriculture conservation practices in the spraying of fields and feeder rotation in order to improve the air and water quality of their land.”
“It was exciting to know that we had been picked,” Shirley said.
“Very humbling,” E.W. agreed.
With just 120 acres and a handful of cattle E.W. and Shirley opened their first ranch near the northwestern Oklahoma town of Adair in 1960. From there it just grew. And grew. And grew some more.
“Yeah, I guess we just added a little bit here and there,” E.W. said.
Probably the largest expansion took place in 1989 when the Pepers acquired 800 acres. The property now consists of 2,100 acres spread out over two locations. The couple also operated a side business, the Peper Grain Company, for 35 years before selling it in 1995. They also manage a 160-acre farm belonging to Ruth, Shirley’s mother, who lives in a home less than 30 feet from her daughter and son-in-law.
In fact, a sense of family colors just about everything the Pepers do. In addition to daughter Angela there’s also son Rick and a total of four grandchildren. Twenty-one-year old Heath, one of Rick’s children currently attending college, recalled his grandparents giving him a female calf when he was but a young’un, a tradition carried through to all the grandchildren.
“We wanted to teach them to care for something,” E.W. said, “because you can’t teach responsibility too young.”
“It definitely taught them responsibility – maybe before some of their peers even,” Rick said.
“I started working on the farm when I was 6,” said Jerod, another of Rick’s sons. “I learned how to run all the equipment before high school.”
As of late it’s gone the other way, too. Because of their children E.W. and Shirley were prompted to get involved with Future Farmers of America. FFA was a part of life for the third generation with the grandkids earning both State and American Farmer Degrees.
The Peper’s cross Angus cattle with Herefords, a combination that yields “superior genetics,” Rick said.
“When you cross an animal like that it’s just going to be better,” E.W. said. “When you are selling beef you want your steers to gain quickly so your feed pays.”
The cattle are fed until they weigh 850 pounds then put on the market – recorded on videotape then bid on through an auction house in Vinita, Okla.
E.W. and Shirley have been married 51 years, and while the couple is used to the trials and tribulations that are part and parcel of an agricultural lifestyle, the past few years have been rough. Multiple years of drought culminated with 2012 becoming Oklahoma’s hottest year on record, and the driest May-through-December period ever, according to officials at Oklahoma State University. Scorching heat and bone-dry skies generated more than $1 billion in losses to the state’s agriculture industry.
“During the last two years of drought we culled 60 from our herd, and we still have not replaced them,” Rick said, although a fairly wet spring has led to cautious optimism.
“It’s not a glamorous life,” E.W. said. “You have to love it because there are lots of disappointments and lots of hard work, but it has its rewards. It’s nice to be able to look at something and say, ‘I built that.’”
No matter what the future holds it’s clear the Peper family won’t lose the faith anytime soon.
“I’m proud of them but we have always looked at them as the farm family of the year,” Heath said.


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