Tulsan Becomes Rancher, Provides High-Quality Meats
By K.J. WEBB
COUNTRY GENTLEMAN: Richard Williford is the owner of Williford Ranch in Vinita, Okla. and strives to offer Oklahomans the highest quality meat possible.
MARK DEBENHAM for GTR Newspapers
For a variety of reasons, many people opt out of “life in the city” to enjoy a gentler pace of life. Three years ago Tulsa businessman Richard Williford Jr. not only made the move out to the country from the urban environs of Tulsa because of a preference for small town life; he started a cattle ranch as well.
Not a “gentleman rancher hobby ranch,” but the real deal. Williford’s concern for beef quality due to the infusion of hormones, dyes and preservatives, as well as E. coli and BSE led him to establish Williford Ranch. The ranch is located approximately 60 miles from Tulsa in Vinita, Okla., and sells custom fed, aged beef products from Hereford and Black Angus cattle.
“Our cattle live in the most stress-free environment we can provide,” says Williford. “We custom feed our cattle the highest quality, all natural feed in a totally natural environment. Stress-free steers make much better tasting meat.”
A drive around the property reinforces the description as stress-free. Rolling hills, verdant tree groves, various creeks and springs, fields of wildflowers and even wild asparagus altogether create a peaceful, pastoral environment.
Williford spent about three-and-a-half years looking for the piece of land that would become his ranch.
“I did a lot of research. I knew I needed two sections of land that were continuous. I looked all over the area. I finally located this piece of land; it’s ideal for our operation. We have 800 acres on one side of the street, 600 on the other side, and an additional 130 across the creek. I also wanted some character and this place offers it. We have a part of Big Cabin Creek, rolling hills, deer and wild turkey, even cougars.”
Though Williford speaks very knowledgably about ranching and raising cattle, he will admit that there was a time that he knew nothing about it.
“Not too many years ago, I was an adjunct professor at (the University of Tulsa) teaching business classes. As I got more interested in ranching, I started taking courses and did a tremendous amount of research for about four years.”
Over time, Williford gained the necessary knowledge to run a ranch successfully from an agricultural perspective, but he won’t take all the credit for this.
“My ranch manager Drew is indispensable,” he says. “He has a tremendous amount of knowledge and does an excellent job.”
With Drew doing such a good job helping manage the agricultural side, Williford has been able to maximize his business acumen to make the ranch a successful business. He attributes his success in this regard to looking at it from the very beginning from a business point of view.
“Balancing the agricultural side with the business side is very important,” he says. “You can get wrapped up in the day-to-day running of the ranch, but you can’t lose sight of the business side of it.”
Keeping the agricultural/business balance in mind has paid off. When Williford takes his cattle to shows to sell, others opt out of selling. They don’t want to sell against Williford’s beef because of its high quality and Williford’s approach to selling.
“I take brochures, I talk to lots of people, and word-of-mouth generates a lot of business,” he explains.
Additionally, unlike other ranchers, Williford sells beef quarters.
“My operation is unique in this aspect. We sell mixed quarters from the front and the rear so customers get one hundred pounds of beef in a variety of cuts.”
The meat gets delivered directly to customers in an ice chest and customers can store in their freezers what they don’t consume right away.
“One hundred pounds of meat does require some extra freezer space,” says Williford, “but our customers always seem to manage storing it.”
Williford’s ability to offer the highest quality meats comes from the all-natural method of raising it, as well as the quality of the cattle itself.
“I spent two years going to auctions to build my foundation herd of Hereford and Angus cattle. Now, I have 130 registered head of cattle. Buying registered cattle is important. It ensures that we can guarantee the lineage of the products we provide. We not only know the parents, but also the grandparents and great-grandparents of each steer.
“At Williford Ranch, we know when your steer was born, when it was weaned, what vaccines were administered and what grasses and grains it consumed along the way.”
When asked what his favorite part about ranching is, Willford answers without hesitation: “Calving season. There’s nothing like watching baby calves run around the pasture playing.
“Recently we had a calf born and his mother died in the process. We named him Lucky, because he was lucky to have survived his birth. At about the same time we had a mama calf that had lost her baby. She was in a deep depression and kept trying to adopt the other little calves. We put her and Lucky together and she took to him right away.”
He also talks about his love of the country life.
“I had no idea what the struggles would be when I first started. About two years ago we had a drought. I ended up installing a lot of water spigots and about 400 yards of hose and we kept our cattle watered. I got a real lesson in the reality of ranch life.”
He makes a point to mention the true sense of community and how everyone helps each other out.
“It’s a small community out here and everyone knows everyone. You can walk into a restaurant and the waitress already knows what your order will be. People are always willing to help.”
Williford says he’s always liked small-town life and attributes this to the fact that he was born in a small town in Colorado.
“It made an impression on me,” he says. “I adapted to city life and enjoy getting back every now and then, but it doesn’t compare to sitting on the porch watching the sunset, or watching the calves run about, listening to the wild turkeys or just looking at the beauty that surrounds you. It’s quieter out here. People are genuine, and time isn’t as important. It’s a really nice life.”
Williford Ranch is located at 440125 East 290 Road in Vinita, Okla. and operates on the principle of selling the highest quality hand-fed beef available in Oklahoma at fair and competitive prices. For more information, call (918) 269-8894.