The Langford family continues the ranching tradition
Langford Herefords and Hybrids began in Okmulgee, Okla., in 1918, one year after physician Benjamin Watson arrived from Arkansas.
Benjamin purchased a quarter section which through the years has grown to 4,500 acres. Later, two of Benjamin’s sons partnered and, in 1939, transitioned from sheep to Herefords because they felt the breed was best suited for their environment. Ironically, Watson Langford’s other great grandfather, Elmer Langford of Texico, N.M., began raising Herefords the same year, with that operation still part of family holdings. Now Elmer’s son Leon manages the New Mexico operation while Benjamin’s great-grandson, Watson, runs the Oklahoma spread.
Raised in ranching, Watson predictably met his future wife Melissa when both were showing cattle in Enid, Okla., Like Watson, Melissa was raised around cattle, but her family raised stockers and wheat. Both Watson and Melissa are strongly independent people who homeschool their children and depend on family unity to run the ranch.
“It is really hard to find skilled help, and my wife and kids are the best,” Watson said. “We may have three hired hands, but this is truly a family affair.”
“Our children do very well academically and consequently have plenty of time to devote to a ranch they love as much as we do,” Melissa added. “Our oldest, Cash, finished his high school classwork when he was only 16 and a year later works with us full time, while our two youngest are eager to work as much as they can, which turns out to be quite a bit since they focus on their studies as hard as they do the cattle.”
Becca is 15 and Wes 13. All three children can handle about any job on the ranch and know how to safely use equipment. Their eyes light up like kids at a fair when talking about what they do on the ranch.
Langford Herefords and Hybrids averages 1,200 registered Hereford and Angus cows bred naturally, as well as by AI and ET. In a typical year, 150 cows are bred by AI and 100 by ET. Watson believes AI and ET keep their genetic quality at a consistently higher level than can be achieved by natural breeding.
The ranch sells 600 Hereford and black baldie bulls annually, as well as 450, bred cows and heifers, and open heifers. Buyers have both EPDs and DNA available to provide them as much information as possible in making the right choices for their operations, though Watson believes the “eyeball of a good cattleman” is still one of the best tools. All stock is sold by private treaty, with most sold to repeat customers and by word of mouth. Nonetheless, they maintain a website and use social media that includes drone captured images of the herd.
“About 70 percent of our new customers come from the website and social media sites. They keep us relevant and keep us in the minds of our repeat customers. A recent call came from an Oklahoma rancher who lost 70 cows to torrential weather before he could get them out. Watson invited him to come over and see a group of heifers he hadn’t even posted yet.
“Everything is for sale all of the time,” Watson explained. “My grandfathers taught me if people want something, you don’t turn them away; and if you can’t fit their needs, you tell them where to go to get it.”
Because few people work the large ranch, management ease is essential. One result is that Watson runs only a spring calving season therefore organizing their annual work cycle efficiently because first-time heifers require more attention. Additionally, calving time occurs when they also have the most time. Watson culls any female that skips a cycle or does not thrive and produce a “big, fat” calf.
“No exception,” Watson explained. “If she can’t do her job, we find one that will.”
Of course, health protocols are important. Watson follows two practices that have helped his herd. One is that all livestock receive a vaccine for anaplasma, which he feels provides greater protection than mineral. The other is administering three rounds of modified live Bovi-Shield, plus one shot to all calves by three weeks prior to weaning.
Another unusual practice is having his 43 pastures dominated by fescue. Due to his culling procedures, Watson’s cattle have a resistance to fescue toxicity and will therefore thrive on fescue for those buyers who have fescue heavy pastures. Part of his feeding regimen is feeding as little hay as possible, that is only when grass is snow or ice covered.
He buys most of his hay because he believes he makes more money using his land for cattle rather than hay and because he has sufficient land to have good winter forage all season long. Cows receive 5 pounds of ration per day for 140 days during winter, with calves being creep fed 30 to 45 days prior to weaning. Bull calves are developed with hand feeding less than one percent of their body weight per day.
“We want our bulls fat enough to sell and skinny enough so buyers come back,” Watson quipped.
Like all cattlemen, Watson is concerned about the future of the industry. He knows consumers are woefully misinformed but is also concerned about U.S. profit margins dropping. He cites South America which could become a fierce competitor partially because they have no “winter” to contend with. Another of Watson’s concerns is a belief that cattlemen are highly independent but need to work together more to influence policy decisions and pending legislation.
The Langford family their loves cattle. Watson fondly remembers being 3 years old and going with his father to check cattle and wheat fields.
“My dad had a huge influence on me, and I try to do the same with my children. I remember my dad telling me that during tough times you don’t have to look far to find someone worse off than you. The memory has stuck with me and helped me all my life.”