Thomas Land & Cattle
On 500 acres outside of Meno, in Northwest Oklahoma, the Thomases are putting the “family” back in “family farm.”
Mark and Annette Thomas came to the Enid area at the end of 2012 and they are sinking their farming roots deep in the sandy soil of Major County – building a first-generation farm in Oklahoma and starting a young family who they hope will share their love of farming.
Annette grew up on a fifth-generation family farm in Oregon, where her father raised sheep and trained border collies. She spent summers working on local farms, went on to study animal science in college and worked in the animal feed and health businesses until she decided to dedicate more time to the farm.
Mark is a cowboy at heart — he worked on his grandparents’ cattle and peach farm in Texas, showed cattle and competed in high school and intercollegiate rodeo. He earned his degree in agriculture and has spent nearly 30 years in the forage seed business.
In fall of 2012, they bought their first small group of bred heifers while they were still living in Texas.
“I liked the idea of having a few cows on a little acreage where we could enjoy working on the farm and raising a family.”
Mark said he remembers auction day clearly.
“The heirs to the estate were older,” he said. “They came up to me and wanted to know our story. When they learned we were going to keep it a family farm, we wanted to build a house and raise our family on the farm, they had tears in their eyes.”
Mark’s brother and father cared for the cattle in Texas until the Thomases purchased their first 160 acres in Meno in 2013 – a sandy farm without irrigation that had been conventionally farmed for years – and moved their young cows with calves to their farm.
The idea to develop the farm and ranch has evolved and Annette admits she didn’t have the vision Mark did when they started.
“I liked the idea of having a few cows on a little acreage where we could enjoy working on the farm and raising a family,” she said. “The next thing I knew, the farm was beyond what I could have ever imagined it would be when we started out. It feels like the farm is genuinely the coming together of the hard work and experiences of our lives and we get to share it as a family. We are very grateful.”
Using their education and experiences, Mark and Annette are building a sustainable farm, literally from the ground up. The Thomases have transitioned to no-till farming, utilizing cover crops and rotationally grazing their cattle to improve soil health. With backgrounds in the forage seeds and cattle nutrition, they focus on growing quality beef starting with bulky grass and hay. The cattle graze a combination of native permanent and annual pastures with grasses, clover and radishes.
Mark said he is passionate about cattle benefitting the forage system and soil.
“The fact is, cattle serve a critical purpose and that is eating grass and turning cellulose into high quality beef. And, as that grass moves through the animal and is redeposited on the soil, it’s not only sustainable, but regenerative agriculture…it’s helping to rebuild the soils. You look at many lands in this part of the country, where it’s been farmed the same way for 50 years, the land needs to be rebuilt.”
“You start with these practices of years ago, going back to smaller farms where the soil, plants and animals work together; it’s a holistic approach. This is the kind of thing we were looking to do - produce quality beef in a way that leaves the land better.”
“Family farms are the fabric of rural America - when family farms go away, farm communities and the rural way of life they provide goes away.”
The desire to keep a holistic, sustainable approach in their farming and ranching has led the Thomases to become the first Animal Welfare Approved beef cattle farm for 1907 Meat Co. and one of a handful in the state.
AWA Certification highlights a farm or ranch as having the highest standards of animal welfare, from birth to slaughter, including a low-stress method of moving cattle, continuous access to pasture to allow the animals to exhibit their natural behaviors and graze, and no added hormones or antibiotics used for weight gain. In addition to being a program with high standards and accountability, AWA is also a transparent program.
“We have a birth-to-finish operation,” Annette said. “We can tell you every single step of the process starting from when a calf was born to when it was harvested and every step along the way and we take pride in it.”
The Thomases don’t have a big operation and for them, it’s better that way.
“My husband and I are involved in the big-picture decisions for the farm and we also do the work which includes the daily chores which often happen with their two young daughters in tow,” Annette said. “We really have a desire to create a quality product that comes from a local farm family and is accessible to local families. Family farms are the fabric of rural America - when family farms go away, farm communities and the rural way of life they provide goes away.”