What started as a desire to have a few cows and a little land, slowly but surely developed into two growing businesses - Thomas Land & Cattle and TLC Grassfed Beef.
At the heart of Thomas Land & Cattle and TLC Grassfed Beef lie first-generation, Oklahoma farmers Mark & Annette Thomas, as well as a deep passion for improving the land and building community.
“We wanted a place to work with our cattle together and provide our children with experiences on the farm,” said Annette. “Over the years, our farm has developed into a place where we are working to improve the land and raise nutritious, local beef to offer to the community.”
A history on the farm
The husband-and-wife team was raised in agriculture. Mark grew up helping on his grandparents' cattle and produce farm in Texas, and he worked on a registered Brahma ranch. He went to college, majored in agriculture, and has spent more than 30 years of his career in the seed industry.
Currently, Mark works as the Director of Business Development for Mountain View Seeds, a division of Pratum Co-op, based in Oregon - specializing in sales, marketing and development of the MVS forage and cover crop seed business. He also currently serves as President of the Southern Seed Association.
Annette grew up on her family's sheep and grass seed farm, as well as working for other row crop farmers in Oregon. She earned her degrees in Animal Science with an emphasis on ruminant nutrition and forages. Before transitioning to the farm full time, Annette spent a number of years in the animal health and nutrition industries.
Starting out on their own
In 2012, the Thomas family started their own farming operation with the purchase of a set of bred heifers. And, in 2013 with the support of Farm Credit of Western Oklahoma, the family purchased its first piece of land, moved the new heifer pairs and started a farm in northwest Oklahoma. Thomas Land & Cattle, the farming operation, now raises grassfed beef and grows and markets triticale seed.
Looking for a way to market their products, in 2016, the couple established TLC Grassfed Beef to market their certified animal welfare approved, 100% grassfed beef. TLC sells directly to consumers, as well as to grocers and restaurants.
Stewards of the earth, as a team
Being good stewards and making their operation more resilient to climate risks is top of mind for the Thomas Family. Mark utilizes his expertise in forages and cover crops to create a continuous forage chain to improve the land and provide nutrition and health to the livestock. He also used his practical experience in animal husbandry and grazing management to establish a rotational grazing system.
“We try to focus on our strengths while working toward our long-term vision and objectives,” he said. “Our goal is to improve the land, focusing on the five principles of soil health which includes the integration of livestock. It is through our livestock we are able to generate a product of value and bring a wholesome beef product to our communities.”
Annette employs her attention to detail and experience in animal health and nutrition to help with daily tasks such as moving and observing cattle, walking pastures to look at the plants and soils and working with Mark on their year-round forage plan for their birth to finish herd. She also handles most of the details on the sales, marketing and distribution of their grass-fed beef.
“There's no magic formula to what we do. And what we do will not work the same for other farmers because each environment - the soils, the people and the animals - are different,” said Annette. “As any farmer will tell you, it takes a good plan, knowledge and experience to get you started, hard work (and plenty of it), persistence and a little bit of luck along the way never hurts.”
Joined in community
Through the highs and lows, the couple has learned valuable lessons along the way, many of which Annette is eager to share with fellow farmers beginning their own journeys.
“It is important to start with basic knowledge and experience, long-term visions, short-term plans, financial support such as that we have through Farm Credit, and the ability to adapt along the way,” said Annette. “I'd say, for us, the most important spoke in the wheel of our farm is we are in it together, and we are both passionate about what we do and why we do it.”
Perhaps the most memorable lesson of all has come in the form of community, where the Thomases have found a network of support at each step in their journey.
“It is critical to build a community of support around you. You cannot and would not want to do it alone.” said Annette. “It's the community that makes agriculture special and wherever you are and whatever your goals, those relationships will be key to building a farm that works and that is worth working in.”