Ben Tate started a path to become a petroleum engineer, but soon returned to the family ranch
WELCH, OKLA. – Ben Tate wasn’t sure he was cut out for the family business. Despite the fact ranching had been in the Tate blood stretching back to before Oklahoma was even a state, he thought he would be parting ways when he got “old enough.”
Yet, when Ben actually got to the fork in the road, he took the path that led him straight back to raising cattle on his family’s land at Tate Ranch.
“I don’t really know if I had any set expectations,” Ben said. “I’ve grown up around it my whole life, so I kind of knew the deal. It’s seven days a week, but I’m really happy. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
The Tate Ranch stretches back to 1885 in Western Kansas. That’s where the family first began to homestead and where Ben Tate was born.
But in 2005, when Ben was 11, the Tates moved to Oklahoma.
“We retained some farm ground, but we had a big finishing/feed yard out there, farm ground and ranches,” Ben said. “We sold the feed yard and sold all the ranches and just kept some of the farm ground.”
Ben said once his family got to Oklahoma, they realized they wanted to make it their permanent home.
“A couple of years prior, in like 2003, there was a pretty bad drought and I think for the first time ever we had to ship cows off the ranch and we ended up leasing a ranch up here in Vinita and shipped our cows out here,” Ben said. “So my dad was driving back and forth every week or two to check on the cows out here and just really kind of fell in love with this area. He realized what the land values were versus how much grass actually grows around here and thought it was a good business idea to move out here. So they did.”
Unfortunately, three years later, Ben’s dad, Bret, passed away. Because Ben was still a teenager, his grandfather, who still owned the ranch, brought in a manager until Ben was old enough to take over. But when it was time to go to college, Ben chose to major in petroleum engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Even though Ben would have been the sixth generation of Tates to run the ranch, he said neither his father nor grandfather tried to pressure him.
“They wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do,” Ben said.
No one else in the Tate family was involved with the ranch, so with Ben deciding to be an engineer, the future of the ranch was uncertain. Two years into his engineering studies, however, Ben discovered it was not the path he wanted to be on.
“After high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was good at math and science so I figured engineering was a good route for that,” Ben said. “Petroleum engineering is what I was in and at the time that was a really high-paying job guaranteed out college. So it sounded like a good idea and I really enjoyed the classes, but about halfway through my sophomore year, I just realized what my life was going to be like as an engineer and working in a big office and I just thought I would enjoy ranching a lot more than that. Whether I made as much money or not whatever, but I just wanted to go back and carry on the legacy of the ranch.”
Ben transferred to Oklahoma State where he got a degree in agricultural business. He then went to Texas Christian University for ranch management.
When Tate returned to Welch, he worked under the manager for a few years until he felt ready to step up and take full control of the operations around 2019.
The Tate Ranch has grown to more than 10,000 acres.
“All the farm ground, we don’t operate ourselves. We lease all that out so we don’t have all that equipment. We’re pretty much just focused on the cattle,” Ben said. “We do cow/calves, we have a backgrounding yard. We also finish cattle in the feed yard and run yearlings out on the grass. So, a little bit of everything.”
While Ben said they are not all-natural when it comes to feeding, they are NHTC (Non-Hormone Treated Cattle) BeefCare certified with IMI Global.
Ben guided the ranch during some unprecedented and unpredictable times that came along with COVID. Now, it is the inflation and rising costs of seemingly everything that he is having to deal with.
“Obviously all of our expenses are significantly higher this year,” Ben said. “The drought we had last year set us back on everything. We had to reduce and we sold about half of our spring herd because of the drought. We ran out of grass and water and couldn’t get enough hay and feed to take care of them.”
Yet Ben is optimistic about the trajectory of the ranch during the next few years.
“I think our national cow numbers are down,” he said. “The demand for beef is higher than ever and our supply should be down because of the drought in the last two years. So the prices should continue to get better. Whether it’s going to keep up with our rising expenses, I don’t know, but it’ll help.”
Ben is looking at ways to grow bigger and make sure the Tate Ranch is a place in the future.
“I’m always looking to pick up new leases or whatever and try anything,” Ben said. “We might kind of try a few different crops to put up for sale in the feed yard. I’d like to expand our finishing cattle operation. Our capacity in the feed yard is only about 6,000 and we normally don’t utilize all of that. So I’d like to ramp that up and start feeding some more cattle, potentially start taking in some other cattle for just custom feeding to keep our pens full. So just keep growing and expanding as we can.”