Markwayne Mullin splits time between his family’s ranch and the U.S. Capital
WESTVILLE, OKLA. – How does a boy from an Oklahoma cattle ranch grow up to be a United States senator? He gains a strong work ethic, a deep sense of responsibility, and a dedication to solving problems from his childhood. He then combines that with his own natural abilities, lifetime experiences and continued formal education.
Markwayne Mullin is a newly elected federal senator from Oklahoma after having served as a member of the House of Representatives for 10 years. His political career began in 2012 when federal regulations were damaging his business.
“My husband was never a complainer and always a doer, so he decided to go to the root of the problem by running run for Congress and winning,” explained Markwayne’s wife Christie.
Markwayne worked beside his dad Jim daily.
A memory that best explains what Markwayne learned from those early years occurred when he was 14. His assigned task for the day was to clear rocks from a field. He decided to run the tractor in low gear while running alongside, picking up rocks and throwing them in the bucket.
The tractor rolled off a soft hole-breaking the front axle hub. While concerned and unhappy about damaging the tractor, his youthful mind was also figuring his workday was done and envisioning swimming with his friends. He paged his dad and explained what happened. To Markwayne’s surprise, Jim asked his teenage son what he thought he would do if he were in Markwayne’s place, solemnly adding he was sure Markwayne would figure it out. Even though repair was something new to him, he figured out how to remove the broken piece and took it to a neighbor to see what was needed. After he found and purchased the necessary, and they repaired the tractor together so Markwayne could finish the day’s work.
“My dad taught me not to look for a reason to quit but rather to look for a solution to finish,” Markwayne said. “That has been a motto for my life.”
Markwayne and Christie built a Tulsa plumbing business that expanded into eight separate companies, six of which were sold last year while they maintained a 10 percent ownership. They also built a house on family land in 2008 as a retreat from the city. In 2011, they moved back to Westville full-time because they wanted to have children, with Markwayne determined his children would have the same quality childhood that he had.
When they returned, Markwayne took over management of the family ranch in order to refine the business practices as well as initiating a change from black Angus to Red Angus. Currently, heifers are crossbred with Beefmaster bulls to better control birthweight for their first delivery in addition to having a more synchronized first-time birthing window because Beefmaster bulls are more aggressive breeders.
“I really like the looks of Red Angus better, especially the color; and if I’m going to lose money, then I want something that looks pretty,” Markwayne confided with a grin.
The Mullins grow all their own hay harvested from 400 acres set aside for that purpose. The hay supply for a given year determines the size of the herd which ranges from 280-400 mommas with one bull for every 20 breeding females. Land is sprayed annually with a fertilizer-weed killer combination with Johnson grass being the biggest issue because cattle will not eat it once it stems out. Rotational grazing prevents the land from being overgrazed with the frequency determined by the time of year, grass production, and weather conditions such as last summer’s drought which resulted in a temporary herd size reduction.
The full herd is divided into five smaller herds on what is now 1,600 acres. Because birthweight is not considered a factor with cows, they are bred by Red Angus bulls raised on the ranch as are replacement heifers. The cow missing a cycle is culled as, are any who reached the short and solid stage around 7 years old. Bulls are culled according to size and productivity. All culls are sold at the sale barn with the females still retaining value since they have more breeding years ahead.
The herd is vaccinated and worked as winter closes. Herd health tends to be excellent because it is mostly closed with the amount of acreage providing additional isolation. The largest health concern is pinkeye which seems to be an area-wide problem. To combat the issue, medicated feed and, whenever possible, freshwater are provided. Additionally, calves are castrated because Markwayne wants to handle the issue only once. Calves are typically weaned at six months though heifers may be weaned a bit sooner with time of sale determined by customer preferences. During winter, the herd receives a 14 percent protein grain ration while in the summer only heifers, steers and bulls are grained. A mineral blend lick is always available are sulfur blocks for tics. Water comes from storage tanks and a fresh creek that runs the length of the ranch.
Mullin calves are sold mostly online supplemented by videos although word of mouth is another venue. Consequently, calves are retained until meeting each customer’s predetermined needs whether that is at weaning or 600 pounds.
Once Markwayne was challenged by the IRS who wanted to call the ranch a hobby farm. Their CPA advised them to have a payroll which in turn supports write offs. Therefore, the Mullin ranch employees help, including one son. The CPA also recommended forming a corporation or an LLC to compensate for economic fluctuations.
“Newcomers into the business need to consider those options. Raising cattle is a challenging business, so it is important to begin and remain with another source of income and to do so because you love it, not because you expect to get rich,” Markwayne advised. “Christy and I are now considering offering hunting leases as well as opening a country barn venue for weddings, reunions and similar functions to further ensure the ranch’s success.”
Because of his upbringing, life experiences and formal education, Markwayne understands some of life’s most important lessons and values cannot be taught in the classroom. The Mullin ranch is a family affair with Markwayne and Christie attentively meeting the needs of each child.