Shelbie Cooper of Madill, Okla. Recognized by Oklahoma Dept. of Ag as a Significant Woman in AgMon, 19 Nov 2018 14:39:38 CST
As part of a continuing series of stories on Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry and Oklahoma State University are recognizing and honoring the impact of countless women across all 77 counties of the state, from all aspects and areas of the agricultural industry. The honorees were nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of 14 industry professionals. Shelbie Cooper of Madill, Okla. is featured this week as a Significant Woman in Oklahoma Agriculture.
Eight years ago, Shelbie Cooper loaded her two young sons, a baby and a 2-year-old, into the feed truck.
It was mid-December, and she was headed to feed the cows by herself, as she did every day during the winter while her husband, Seth Cooper, was on the road hauling cattle.
“They’re both in school now, so it is a little easier to get stuff done during the day,” she laughed. “When they were little, I would take both of them with me. It was a job to take two little ones feeding with you.”
The Coopers run a 103-head cow-calf and hay operation on about 730 acres. They also do custom hay baling.
“In the summer from about May until September we’re baling hay constantly,” she said, “and that takes up a lot of our time. Once we end that we start planting wheat (for baling), and we just kind of start the process over.”
The Coopers also own a cattle transportation business, Cooper Ranch and Trucking LLC. Seth drives one truck, and the business employs two other drivers, hauling primarily cows and feeder cattle.
“We’ve just kind of grown over the years,” Shelbie Cooper said. “It’s pretty much just he and I that do everything. He is gone most of the week hauling cattle, so I take care of everything at home and the feeding.”
Cooper also does all of the paperwork for the trucking business. Luckily in the summers, Seth is home for hay season.
“We usually try to keep about 400-500 bales on hand for us,” she said, “but most of the hay we bale is sold. We sell a lot of hay, between 3,000-4,000 (large, round) bales (each year).”
The Coopers are quite the team.
“We both really do all of it,” she said. “If I need to go cut while he’s baling or if he’s cutting while I’m baling, I laugh and say we’re a good team because we can both do all of it.”
It wasn’t always this way.
Aside from a short-term job at an agricultural manufacturing company, Shelbie Cooper has worked full time in production agriculture since she married her high school sweetheart 11 years ago.
“I laugh and say he just put me to work and taught me everything I know,” she said.
Cooper’s first experiences with agriculture came from 4-H and FFA. She participated in livestock judging contests and showed livestock - primarily pigs but also heifers and goats. Her sons, Cash, 10, and Cannon, 8, are now 4-H members and show livestock. Cannon also rodeos.
Cooper didn’t grow up around agriculture, but her father had horses.
“We didn’t farm or anything like that,” she said. “My dad roped, and so that was really the only thing in agriculture that we had when I was little. Once I married Seth, that’s really where agriculture started.”
And when it started, it did not slow down.
“The first time he ever made me pull a big gooseneck trailer was with our cab tractor,” she said. “We had just bought it, and he made me pull it home. And I said, ‘I’m not driving that truck home with that big tractor on it,’ and he made me do it.”
Cooper figured it out, however.
“That’s really how I learned to pull a big trailer because Seth just made me get in and do it,” she laughed. “I guess if I laid it over, I laid it over. It was going to be his fault because he made me do it.”
Seth did not come from a farming family either. Instead, he discovered his passion for agriculture by working for a local farmer as a teenager and hauling cattle for a local rancher.
“Nothing we have was handed down to us,” Shelbie Cooper said. “We’ve started it. And we pray that we can pass it on to our boys, and they can keep growing it.”
At the Cooper Ranch, it is either hay season, planting season or feeding season. There is never really a “slow” time of year. Shelbie Cooper is also the Marshall County Junior Livestock Association secretary, where she serves young agriculturalists in her “free” time.
In the winters while Seth is often gone, Shelbie and her boys get the chores done around the house before heading off to school. After she drops the boys off, she feeds the cows and puts hay out, this time without the help of two sons under the age of 2.
“Usually by the time I get done doing that it’s time to go pick them up,” she said, “and we’ll come back and feed the show heifers and pigs.”
From dawn to dusk, Cooper’s day is filled with agriculture.
“If people don’t know, they just need to come ride with you one day and see, and then they’ll kind of get a view,” she said, pointing out that not everyone gets to see what she does every day.
Cooper loves working in agriculture, but it does have its challenges.
“It’s hard work,” she said. “People don’t realize how much (hard work it takes), especially for women.”
Cooper may not be as strong as her husband, but it never slows her down.
“I think I can do it, but there’s some things I have to be realistic about,” she laughed.
With the fluctuation of weather and markets, managing finances is always a challenge.
“There are times when it doesn’t pay as good as you’d like for it to,” she said. “If you lose a crop, then it’s really hard.”
Cooper said sometimes she thinks it would be easier to have a regular job working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but she continues on, because agriculture is important to her.
“It’s really rewarding to me,” she said. “Just over the 11 years that we’ve been married we’ve got to watch it grow. We started out with seven cows. At one point when the drought was so bad, we had to sell them all, and so it was kind of disheartening then. But we started over, and now we’ve grown to 103 momma cows. So, I think it’s just really rewarding to watch how it just keeps growing just because of what you’ve done.”
The Coopers continue keeping heifers back each year to grow their operation. It is truly a husband and wife team that makes the operation successful.
“We do better when it’s just us when we’re working cows,” she said. “It’s easier when it’s just the two of us because we work perfect together. It’s been fun. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.”
Although she was not raised in agriculture, it has become a part of her everyday life, and she would not change it. She said it has been a blessing for her family.
“I love getting to raise our boys around them (the cattle) and getting to have their own bottle calves,” she said. “It’s been hard sometimes, but it’s fun. Not everybody gets to do it, and I’m glad we do.”
Source - Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry
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