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Coffey named 2020 OCA Cattleman of the Year

Drew Butler
The Daily Ardmoreite
News alert

Chuck Coffey of Springer was recently named the Oklahoma Cattleman’s Association’s Cattleman of the Year. The award is the highest honor the OCA can give a member, and it was designed to recognize those members who have made significant contributions to both the OCA and the Oklahoma beef industry as a whole.

Coffey is a fifth-generation cattle rancher, and he said he has been actively ranching since his early teens when his father took over ranching operations from his grandfather. He said his favorite part of ranching is not necessarily the cattle themselves, so much as it is the land and using the cattle as a tool to manage it.

“The land is the future,” Coffey said. “The Arbuckles are a pretty pristine area that’s never been plowed due to all the rocks. They’re a blessing and a curse. A curse in that they’re hard to navigate, but a blessing in that it’s never been plowed. So we’ve got what I would call virgin soil, and we look at it as not so much ownership of the land as we do conserving the land as a legacy for the generations to come — be it my kids or the next owners or managers.”

One challenge of working with the land is working with nature, which can sometimes be unpredictable.

“You have to manipulate wet years with dry years with cold years with hot years,” Coffey said. “The cycles of the weather are a challenge in our industry, and it’s something you have to be ready to face year after year. It’s hard to plan ahead for those challenges.”

Coffey said weather variables change from year to year even though other things, such as vaccination schedules, remain the same.

“In terms of the grazing and the feeding, every year is different,” Coffey said. “I tell people all the time I don’t have 46 years of experience, I’ve got one year of experience 46 years in a row because every year is different.”

Coffey said another challenge in the industry is remaining profitable. He pointed out that even though beef prices at the counter have recently gone up, the amount of money the ranchers themselves see has not really changed.

“I don’t want to see prices for food go up on people, but it’s hard to be profitable on the cow/calf level in terms of sustaining your business economically,” Coffey said. “The cattle prices don’t necessarily go up with the cost of input — with steel, with fertilizer, with the nutrition that we feed our cattle.”

He gave the example of selling a trailer of cattle to illustrate his point.

“Were it to take a trailer load of calves on say a 30-foot trailer to get enough money to buy a new pickup, now you have to sell a semi's worth or two semi’s worth to buy a new pickup,” Coffey said. “It’s a narrow business margin.”

In addition to his time on his ranch, Coffey served several years on the Cattleman’s Beef Board, where he spent three years as an officer and one year as chairman. He has also testified before Congressional Committee on behalf of the industry regarding issues to do with conservation.

In fact, Coffey and his wife Ruth were recognized earlier this year with the Leopold Conservation Award, an award that recognizes extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation by private landowners. On the evening of the OCA Awards, the Coffeys were under the impression they were going to be recognized once more for receiving this award. He was completely unaware he was being named Cattleman of the Year.

Coffey was unable to attend the ceremony due to concerns about COVID-19. His son had recently been diagnosed with the virus, and though Coffey had not had direct contact with his son, he had been in direct contact with another person believed to have the virus. In order to prevent the potential spread of the virus, Coffey chose to self isolate. Fortunately, his son has now completely recovered. Coffey himself never contracted the virus, and the Coffeys were able to attend the award ceremony virtually.

“It was a total shock and very humbling to say the least,” Coffey said. “There are so many great cattlemen out there, there’s really nothing special about me. But I do believe in this industry.”