Gary and Karen Harding

From humble roots in Oklahoma to working for a Rockefeller, one Oklahoma cattle producer has dedicated his career to educating future ranchers at Connors College.

“We both attended Oklahoma State University in the 1960’s and met in the College of Agriculture. We went on one date where Gary spilled a cup of hot coffee all over his lap,” said Karen.

“We both went our separate ways and years later, we started going out as friends. Karen would always say “This is not a date”, but in the end, I married my best friend,” shared Gary.

Karen was raised on a Brangus ranch in Sulphur, Oklahoma and was involved with rodeos.

“My first husband was really involved with cattle industry, so I used to be pretty active in it, as well. Actually, I purchased a piece of land from a coal company that had gone bankrupt”, said Karen.

Gary studied animal science and went to grad school at the University of Nevada, where he graduated with a master’s degree in range livestock nutrition.

“One summer after my freshman year of under-grad, I was able to work for Winrock Farms in Arkansas—a large Santa Gertrudis operation owned by Winthrop Rockefeller, the son of John D. Rockefeller Jr,” shared Gary.

After grad school, Gary went into partnership with his former in-laws involving farming, cattle, and piston combines out in northwest Oklahoma.

“It’s what I would’ve always dreamed of, but I didn’t figure I could ever get started,” said Gary.

Gary did that for eight years. Then, he spent some time working for the Department of Agriculture and the Farm Bureau. Finally, he took a teaching position at Connors College.

“At the time, their ag program needed some improvement and enrollment was poor. I took it as a perfect opportunity to turn it around,” said Gary.

Over time, the agriculture program flourished, and today, there’s even a purebred ranch operations program.

Meet Your Rancher:

What do you believe has made ranching more efficient?

I believe the Beef Quality Audit has been really important for the beef industry. It makes sure things are done the correct and most efficient way.

The world is much more advanced in knowledge in some parts of agriculture, such as rotational grazing and even multiple species grazing, where you have sheep or goats grazing alongside eating weeds in the grass, which eliminates more pesticides. Antibiotics have improved in quality and availability. When I first started, we only had access to penicillin.

What is the most important thing that ranchers can do for sustainability and taking care of their land, water and other resources?

It comes down to proper management; it’s important to not overgraze and try to control the invasive species.

We’ve worked with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and their Wetland Program to restore part of the land to benefit the waterfowl and wildlife. We also participate in programs with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife to allow hunting and fishing.

What piece of advice would you have for a mother living in an urban area who is unfamiliar with agriculture?

We haven't done a great job as an industry of educating the public. We need to improve, but on the flip side, consumers need to do their research regarding where their food actually comes from.

What do you think is the most difficult FOR today’s generation of producers?

One of the most difficult aspects that today’s generation faces would have to be the public misconception of the ranching lifestyle and intentions.

What piece of advice do you have for the next generation of ranchers?

It takes work outside of a typical 35- or 40-hour week. To build a ranch, It takes evenings and weekends. It’s tough, but the rewards are great.

What’s your favorite cut of meat and how do you like it prepared?

My favorite is prime rib cooked medium-rare..


Checotah, Okla.


Cows are bred and calves are born and raised every year on cow-calf farms and ranches, spending time grazing on grass pastures within sight of their mothers.

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