It’s About the Bottom Line
Burl Cooper said his Red Angus herd has been his most profitable
Burl Cooper, owner of Cooper Ranch in Romance, Ark., has made a lifetime of raising cattle, a long lifetime. At 83 years old, Cooper has no plans to retire or even slow down.
He is up early every morning loading feed and hay to make sure his Red Angus cattle get the best nutrition, especially during the winter. The cattle respond and will come running with a honk of the ATV horn or see the tractor humming down the road loaded with hay. It gets crowded around the feed troughs as Burl puts out buckets of soybean meal.
Burl originally hails from McAlester, Okla., where several generations of both sides of his family worked the land. Several siblings of Burl’s parents moved west during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but Burl’s parents toughed it out. Burl bought his first cattle as a teenager and has been raising cattle ever since. Burl and his family moved to White County, Ark., when he was 25 and began clearing what is now Cooper Ranch. His first land purchase was in 1961.
“This land was basically wilderness when we bought it.” Burl said. “There were a couple of old log roads through here and even the county roads were poor gravel roads. I had worked for a lot of years to come up with the $4,000 down payment on the land. It was tough. We almost starved to death, but we hung in there and made it work.”
The pioneer spirit and determination Burl brought with him from Oklahoma has been the catalyst for the foundation of a quality Red Angus cattle herd.
Today, Cooper Ranch stretches over 655 acres and runs 276 head of cattle.
Burl has raised several different breeds of cattle over the years but settled on the Red Angus in 1993. While he had good luck with other breeds, the Red Angus won him over at the bottom line.
“I’ve made more money with Red Angus. They are very good mommas, give lots of milk and have good temperament. It is really all about the money,” Burl said.
“The Red Angus business has been really good to me. Red Angus bulls are number three in sales in the nation. The black Angus and Herefords are ahead of the Red Angus, which is really good. Whatever a person likes, however, is what he needs to raise. I sell a lot of bulls to people who have Brangus cows, black cows; There are advantages to Red Angus. They are good natured and they milk well. It’s just a joy to take care of them.”
Burl has 35 bulls, and he annually retains about 25 or 30 heifers.
“I’ve got some cows that are up around 12 years old, so I’ll put these heifers in this fall,” he said. “Most of the time I like to breed them at about 16 to 18 months. By the time they get to that age, they are weighing close to 800 pounds. You’re asking for trouble if you breed them much younger than that.”
Burl also offers about 30 heifers for sale each year, as well as several bulls, and has managed to build a loyal customer base from cattle producers across several states. Occasionally he will take some calves to local sale barns, but his main market is private sales. Burl credits his knowledge of the cattle business and standing behind his word.
“My word is my bond,” Burl said. “If I tell a fella something, I mean what I say and I stand behind it.”
Burl has been able to accomplish something on his ranch that few farmers have done; his farm has been the sole source of income for his family. It’s a fact Burl is proud of.
“Unlike a lot of farms, this farm has produced every penny we needed to live,” he said. “Most families have one or sometimes both spouses that have to seek off-the-farm income to survive. We have never done that here. It has been tough at times, but we made it.”
An area Burl emphasized is proper management of a cattle herd, no matter the breed.
“There’s a lot of poor management, especially in the winter,” he said. “They will feed hay that hasn’t had any fertilizer, and I see cows that are thin, but my cattle are in good shape because I take care of them.”
Burl continued by saying hay ground that goes unfertilized is not a quality feed source.
“There’s no protein in it,” he said. “I’ve had hay tested that hasn’t had any fertilizer and it’s about 5 percent protein. Hay that has been fertilized tests at about 13, 14 percent protein. It makes a big difference. Your cows can show you the difference too. You can put out a bale of hay that hasn’t had any fertilizer and a bale that has, and the cows will go to that bale that had fertilizer.”
Burl puts up his own hay and is adamant about testing the forages.
“I put up 1,300 round bales this last year,” he said, adding he follows recommendations of his soil tests and limes pastures.
“If you don’t lime, you’re kind of butting your head against the wall,” Burl said. “You have to keep your pH up.”
Burl provides most of the labor for the ranch. There are times family members must pitch in and help. Burl’s two sons, daughters-in-law and older grandkids all join in when it is time to work cows.
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but my daughters-in-law are probably better cowhands than my sons,” Burl said amusingly. “Having both sets of kids living down the road on the farm sure helps.”
Burl has some sage advice for young farmers or those thinking about going into the profession.
“Start with the grass and build it up first,” he reflected. “It takes so much money to get started, young people need to build up a good grass base, then start adding cattle. They don’t need to be spending a lot of money for feed and hay those first few years. Build your grass, then add cattle.”
Burl has surpassed the average age of American farmers by a quarter century. But he is not keeping count. Retirement or slowing down is not in his vocabulary.
“I’ll retire when I draw my last breath on this earth, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Burl said. “At my age, I just live from day to day and enjoy taking care of the cattle. “It’s been my life; I’ve had cattle since I was about 16 years old. My land and my cattle will be passed on to my two sons.”http://www.ozarksfn.com/2020/03/02/its-about-the-bottom-line/http://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/BurlCooper-1024x789.jpghttp://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/BurlCooper-150x150.jpgArkansas NeighborsNeighborsArkansas,Brangus,Burl Cooper,Cattle,Cooper Ranch,McAlester,Oklahoma,Red Angus,RomanceBurl Cooper said his Red Angus herd has been his most profitable Burl Cooper, owner of Cooper Ranch in Romance, Ark., has made a lifetime of raising cattle, a long lifetime. At 83 years old, Cooper has no plans to retire or even slow down. He is up early every...Larry BurchfieldLarry Burchfieldlburchfield57@gmail.comAuthorOzarks Farm & Neighbor Newspaper