Sustainable is a word often portrayed as the ideal in agriculture, but many find it hard to define.
But Zeno and Becca McMillan of Johnston County believe sustainability is not just a word; it’s an action.
Each and every day, the south central Oklahoma couple – along with their daughter, Rory – strives to work hand-in-hand with nature to raise cattle and care for the land on their Red Angus and red baldy cow/calf operation.
“(Sustainability) is people like Zeno and I, and Rory, just doing the best management practice for the land that it was intended to have,” Becca said.
The fifth-generation ranchers lean into the wisdom taught by their ancestors to steward the land well.
“His grandfather told us, ‘Take care of the land and it’ll take care of you,’” Becca said. “And that’s kind of how we’ve approached everything out here.”
Taking advantage of the natural environment found on their ranch, the family raises cattle using primarily the resources provided to them by nature.
“You’re just a steward of the land for so long,” Zeno said. “We try to just use what Mother Nature gave us. It’s helped, instead of trying to overdo it and overuse the land.”
The McMillans use rotational grazing and conservative stock rates to protect the native grasses found in rocky areas of their ranch near Mannsville. The cattle grazing work in tandem with nature to help the grasses reseed for the next year, just like buffalo did on the land in centuries past.
“The livestock out here grazing, they’re giving back to Mother Nature what Mother Nature needs to produce grass out there in continuous cycles,” Becca said.
In areas of the ranch with loamy soils, the family utilizes introduced grasses.
“They complement each other, that we have them both,” Zeno said. “We can rotate around and take up some slack if one’s not doing as well as the other.”
Serving as a complement to the cattle grazing on native grasses, the McMillans also incorporate goats in their operation to help naturally manage brush control across the ranch.
“We move the goats around in small areas to just hit that brush hard,” Zeno said. “They’ll keep it trimmed back. It’s really helped the land and that’s what it’s all about.”
Using good management practices on their ranch has helped the family endure challenges from nature like drought. And each year, the McMillans aim to learn and improve from their mistakes.
“Nothing’s perfect, but we try to get better every year,” Zeno said.
Passionate about their way of life, the McMillans aspire to continue their heritage of stewarding the land in the generations to come.
“At the end of the day, it’s leaving it better than how we found it and leaving a legacy for our daughter, Rory,” Becca said. “We hope teaching her good management practices is something we’ll be able to keep on passing down generation to generation.”