Henry Cattle Co.

John Henry is the fifth generation in his family to work the oldest registered ranching brand in Oklahoma — Henry Cattle Company, near Ralston in Pawnee County.

John’s great-great-grandfather was a blacksmith who came to the Ralston-Grayhorse area around the turn of the 20th century as a part of the state treaties with the Osage Tribe, John said.

“In a lot of the treaties being put together at the time, one of the requests of the tribe was to provide them a blacksmith,” he said. “Metal tools were new to them and they didn’t have a lot of experience working with metal.”

“Everyone used to have a milk cow and a little garden plot behind their house.”

John’s great-grandfather worked as a meat cutter in the Osage market in Ralston and began buying land to start a ranch in the late 1920s, John said. He eventually ran for the state House of Representatives and was elected in 1938.

As a rancher in the 1920s and ‘30s, he offered a unique service, John said.

“Everyone used to have a milk cow and a little garden plot behind their house,” he said. “They would go around and open the back gates and the cows were trained to go into the alley.”

They would herd the cows down the alley and into a pasture outside of town in the morning to let them graze all day, and then drive them back home in the evening to be milked again, John said.

“That was one of the first services they offered,” he said, and laughed. “It has no place in today’s time.”

John’s grandfather went to veterinary school and returned to practice and run cattle on the side, eventually taking over the ranch, John said.

Then the ranching bug jumped a generation — John’s father dabbled in ranching, but ended up going to school to practice law in the area.

The ranching bug bit John at a young age, he said.

“I was interested in it from early on, with my granddad being a vet and running cattle,” he said. “Pawnee is a very agricultural community, being about 80 percent cattle and 20 percent farming. I was always around it. I always liked it, especially the care and husbandry side of it… I always had a natural interest in it.”

John eventually took the reins of the cattle company from his grandfather, and runs his ranch a little different from how his predecessors operated things.

“My grandparents’ ranch was 1,000 acres,” he said. “We have 10,000 acres. I would say, if you were looking at (ranching) 50 years ago, it was all smaller operations. A lot of people might have 160 acres and that was their cattle operation… We live a lot larger now.”

The cattle operation itself is different.

“My granddad and his dad never had a cow on the place,” he said. “They bought steers and got them ready through the winter… You put a steer on grass and it gains 200 pounds during the summer and you sell him in August and you do it all over agin. That’s a typical yearlong operation and that’s what my family had always done.”

Now, John breeds steers and heifers to sell to feed lots or other ranchers for breeding purposes.

Henry Cattle Company raises all of the hay they use on site, as well as some of the grain used to finish cattle to slaughter weight, which John said makes them different from most operations.

“The thing that separates us from most other ranches in Oklahoma is having every facet of it,” he said. “It’s kind of start to finish here.”

John also raises a several cattle solely for 1907 Meat Co. By the end of 2016, 1907 Meat Co. had purchased 45 animals from John Henry.

Cattle that end up in the 1907 Meat Co. butcher case have access to pasture grazing, hay, grain, fresh water, pond water and plenty of room to stretch their legs and lounge around, John said.

“Everything a cow could want,” he said.

Chris Peters