Chuck and Ruth Coffey are a driving force behind Oklahoma’s emerging land stewardship movement.
The fifth-generation ranchers, who obtained rangeland ecology degrees and married in 1986, share a desire to protect, conserve and regenerate natural resources for future generations. They settled in south central Oklahoma, where Chuck was Murray State College’s Agriculture Director before accepting a position with what would become the Noble Research Institute. In addition to advising fellow ranchers and farmers on pasture and range issues, he co-authored two books on plant identification before retiring in 2013.
Chuck is described as a “fearless pioneer” in trying new things that will protect soil and grass, and is widely known for his generosity in sharing time and knowledge to benefit others.
The Coffey’s three children, Aaron, Seth and Sarah, are involved in the family’s 30,000-acre cattle ranch in the Arbuckle Mountains. Cooperating with state and local agencies on innovative grazing strategies has sped up the return of perennial grasses to their landscape. In addition to providing the forage for their herd of 800 to 1,000 beef cows, the ground cover provides wildlife habitat, adequate fuel for prescribed fires, and reduces soil erosion from wind and water. Their grazing strategies have improved the ranch’s profitability by lowering labor, equipment, fuel and feed costs.
Not every conservation practice has worked, but the setbacks only fuel their passion to protect and rebuild the soil and share their experiences. Coffey Ranch regularly hosts tours on soil health, brush control, wildlife management, water development and distribution, and how coupling grazing management and prescribed fires promotes biodiversity. The goal of the tours is to inspire others to see the importance of managing livestock, wildlife and environment as one big system.
Partnering on conservation projects with the Noble Research Institute, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Oklahoma State University, allows the Coffeys to stay current with the latest agricultural innovations and technologies.
Passionate about improving Oklahoma’s water quality and quantity issues, the Coffeys have developed 20 solar wells since the 2011 drought. They've also added watering points and maintained adequate plant height and rest times between grazings.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 acres are burned annually to control the encroachment of juniper trees onto pastures of native grasses. Experiments with prescribed burnings during the summer have shown great promise of regenerating the land. The largest trees are left on the grasslands to create a savannah effect that provides shade for the cattle.
Off the ranch, Chuck serves as chair of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board, and is a past director for the Oklahoma Society for Range Management. Ruth is president of the Oklahoma Cattlewomen’s Association. Their children serve their community as well, including leadership roles with the Arbuckle Rangeland Restoration Association.