Treadway Ranch • Clifford and Glenda Treadway • McCurtain, OK

Turn up the long dirt driveway toward the neat log home, and you instantly know the Treadway Ranch is not your average hog farm.

Beef cattle graze verdant pasture. Just across a fence line, freshly made round hay bales pepper the landscape. Red hog buildings stand beyond a large farm pond probably loaded with fish, well back from the main road. Birdhouses hang on trees. Overhead, a hawk dives, looking for one last early-morning meal.

At the house, surrounded by carefully tended flowers, Clifford and Glenda Treadway explain their goal since buying the 810 acres near McCurtain, OK, in 1975, has been to restore fertility and make it a wildlife haven.

“We love to get in the Jeep and ride around here, looking at deer, turkeys and birds like painted buntings. We didn't have any turkeys until six or seven years ago and it's still a surprise to see them,” Clifford says.

“Viewing wildlife is our recreation,” explains Clifford. “We load up the grandkids and off we go. We instill in them that we have to take care of all this. It doesn't just happen. They need to know you can hunt and still have the wildlife here to enjoy.”

Glenda thinks having an appreciation for nature's wonders makes better citizens. “I'm old-fashioned. I think a person with a love for gardening and the outdoors can't be all bad. Whether they grow up to hunt and fish or just enjoy being outside, I want the grandchildren to understand the importance and pleasure of wildlife, and respect it.

“I'm a firm believer that 90% of the problems of society comes from a total lack of respect,” she continues. “I want them to learn values, courtesy, and respect, and in turn, acquire self-respect and respect for other people, the land and nature.”

Reversing the Neglect

Look more closely at the 500-sow, farrow-to-wean operation, contracted with Cargill, and you come to understand just how much that philosophy influences their decision-making.

When they bought the farm, things looked tough. Years before, the soil had been sapped by erosive cotton farming. After cotton farmers gave up and left, a coal mining company bought it cheap. But the coal reserves proved too deep to mine and gas pockets would have made mining dangerous.

The coal company did nothing with it and eventually gave the land to a rancher as reclamation for damages done on his place. Deciding it was useless, he sold it to the Treadways. Clifford, then an electrician in coal mines, knew he faced big odds. Experts told them restoration was hopeless on the worst of it.

“The rancher said it wasn't even worth fencing and he only took it to sell it. The topsoil was gone in a lot of places; it had washed down to bedrock. It wouldn't support a solid stand of grass, so we could control water on it,” explains Clifford.

“In eastern Oklahoma, we get 40 to 60 in. of rain a year and 90% of that comes in three months. It's nothing to get five in. of rain in one night. You can do a lot of work filling in gullies and lose it all in one night's flash flood,” he says.

He slowly brought the land back to life, sprigging Bermuda grass, over seeding ryegrass, clover and fescue. Until starting the hog farm in 1995, he used commercial fertilizer. However, when he started applying effluent, he saw a big benefit on pastures.

“We did more in 10 years with effluent than in 20 years with commercial fertilizer,” he explains. “It gets more depth in the soil. There's swiftness in building fertility. When we water it in with irrigation, we can get the fertility down deep, which makes grass a lot hardier than if the fertility is just in the top 2-3 in. We raised the organic matter in the soil, too.”

The effluent is tested yearly and is applied according to a nutrient management plan, which designates a different area each year to avoid phosphorus buildup.

Forage, Cattle Thrive

The Treadways use an elaborate irrigation system with 2,500 ft. of underground pipe and 3,500 ft. of surface pipe. Risers and guns are arranged so effluent can be spread on three separate pastures. The cattle are on a rotational grazing system and move among six paddocks.

“The forage is good enough that we make enough hay in one cutting off 90 acres for our 100 cows. Calf weaning weight went up, too, by about 100 lb. after we started using effluent,” he says.

They cut hay just once a year, then allow cattle to graze the second crop. He estimates the effluent doubled hay production, the coastal Bermuda grass growing to well past knee high. “We still buy commercial fertilizer to go places the irrigation can't reach, but it's just a fraction of what it used to be,” Clifford says. “We cut the fertilizer bill by about $4,000.”

Lagoon Upgrades

The Treadways started with one lagoon and fairly quickly saw that wouldn't be sufficient. They added a second, which cut odor by 90%. But Clifford wasn't satisfied.

“I got the bright idea that if two lagoons were good, three would be better. Now there's plenty of storage. It's one more thing we can manage without having to be on edge all the time,” he says.

They've had numerous environmental audits, never having a violation.

“With our three-lagoon system, we don't have to worry about it. There are a lot of options you don't have with just one. We carry 8 ft. of freeboard in number three (lagoon) and it really has nothing in it but water, no sludge. When we depopulated the hogs, we cleaned everything out all the way to the 18-in. red clay liner. We have peace of mind. We know we'd never be in trouble,” he says.

The Treadway Ranch is an Oklahoma State University Monitor Farm. They allow university specialists to conduct research about lagoon sludge buildup, lagoon salt concentrations, the use of legumes to utilize swine manure nutrients and seasonal changes in lagoon nutrient concentration.

Soil is sampled before and after effluent is applied. Forage samples are also tested. This work helped the university establish effluent application guidelines for the state.

Wildlife — A High Priority

For the Treadways, there was never a question of whether to put an emphasis on wildlife.

“This was something I'd wanted to do my whole life, but never could afford,” Clifford says.

Doing it while still making a living from the farm provided the challenge. About half their land, across the road from the hog farm, is still wooded and contains a rock quarrying operation. There, they plant food plots for deer and wild turkeys and encourage wildlife to thrive.

“We stopped hunting, though we allow hunting here with permission. We just want to know the people on the land,” he says.

The Treadways, in fact, sponsor youth hunts on their land, including a deer hunt for disadvantaged children. They also work with the Wild Turkey Federation to hold a hunt for those with disabilities.

“They're called the Wheeling Sportsmen. It's a tremendous amount of work and there are limited places where we can take the people in wheelchairs, but we enjoy doing it. The game wardens pitch in and go way beyond the call of duty,” Clifford says.

A 15-acre wildflower patch provides visual testimony to the Treadways' environmental efforts, too.

“It's for butterflies and birds,” explains Glenda. “Our youngest daughter is a flower picker and loves bouquets. We wanted something new and different and beautiful.

“It's a long-term project and not cheap to do. I'm an unbelievably stubborn cuss. The harder it gets, the harder I try,” she says. “Some wildflower seed lies dormant for two or three years before germinating.

“We've seen a lot of different butterflies and lots of birds in there. The deer eat the fire out of them, too, mostly the sunflowers,” says Glenda.

A flower garden also grows alongside the hog barns, and the area surrounding the house is intricately landscaped, complete with a small waterfall and goldfish pond.

“We wanted a place we could be proud of, a place we'd be proud for other people to see. We want other people to enjoy our place. First it was for our kids, then later for our grandkids,” Glenda says.

The farm sits atop Haklochi Mountain, named after one of the original Choctaw landowners here. It's part of the Seven Devils Mountain range.

For the Treadways, it's a special place, and they've made it even more special with their careful stewardship.

“I liked where this place was located. Because of the problems with it, we could get it cheap, and we could get it financed. We could see it had potential, even with all the negatives involved. It was hard work. It's an ongoing project, and we'll continue to work to make it even better,” Clifford says.