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Rainfall and boggy pastures don’t prevent Oklahoma rancher Shannon Hall from feeding his cows, thanks to a powerful team of Belgian draft horses.

By Ross Hecox

Rain drips from the brim of Shannon Hall’s hat, and pools of water begin to form in his pastures, already saturated with an abundance of winter moisture. Despite his soaked state of affairs, Hall is smiling because he just finished feeding his first-calf heifers and their newborns this morning before the heaviest rainfall begins.

His upbeat mood also emerges from holding the lines of his powerful Belgian team, James and John, pulling a wagon through mud puddles and sloppy draws on his family’s ranch, the Quarter Circle 99, located near Loco, Oklahoma.

“I like to use them just because I enjoy it so much,” Hall says. “And if we were feeding with a truck, there’s no way we would be able to get around out here. We’d get stuck.”

Hall’s love for working a team traces to his teenage years, growing up on the RO Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. He spent many Saturdays working for Walt Campbell, a neighbor who owned a place originally built by the JA Ranch. They would load 100-pound burlap sacks of cottonseed cake onto a wagon, and then drive Campbell’s team from one pasture to the next, filling up cake houses spread across the ranch.

Two Belgian horses pull a wagon loaded with hay through a muddy bank.

John (left) and James pull a load of hay, plus Shannon and Ronda Hall, up the muddy bank of Pine Creek near Loco, Oklahoma.

Hall has used teams on his operation for decades, typically feeding alfalfa hay during the winter months. He uses a tractor to load two 1,400-pound square bales on his wagon, then sends his team across creeks and up and down the rolling landscape of southern Oklahoma. His wife, Ronda, often helps. But there are plenty of days when he works alone, using voice commands to stop and start James and John, the “sons of thunder,” while he flakes off hay to bawling Black Angus cows and calves.

In addition to the simple enjoyment of gripping lines rather than a steering wheel, Hall rolls out a long list of benefits by feeding the old-timey way.

“You can go anywhere and see those cattle,” he says. “You can get to them regardless of the weather. I’ve driven these two through 4- or 5-foot snow drifts, and they just plow through it. And they start up, no matter how cold it is.”

Hall prefers to drop out hay in different areas, pointing out that using the same area day after day takes a toll on rangeland, wastes hay and invites more parasites and germs.

“I can go anywhere I want to, so I can keep moving my feed ground,” he says. “There’s so much more waste when you just set it out in one place every time. It just mucks out everything. I like for the cows to clean up all that hay. Once we start calving, I work my way to another spot every day because it prevents a lot of disease.”

The savings in diesel fuel is another advantage he notes. And when considering the most noticeable drawback—a slower pace—Hall is totally fine with that.

“You could say the downside is how much time it takes out of your day,” says Hall, who used to train and show cutting horses fulltime. “You can only go so fast. And after 30 years working for the public, going to horse shows and hurrying all the time, well, that’s one of the greatest things about it.” ★


This article appears in the Winter 2024 issue of the Ranch Record.  Would you like to read more stories about NRHC and ranching life? When you become a member of the Ranching Heritage Association, you’ll receive the award-winning Ranch Record magazine and more while supporting the legacy and preservation of our ranching heritage. Become a member today.