Terry Stuart and sons on horseback. Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry

Terry Stuart Forst’s father fired her once. She says she definitely deserved it.

“He should’ve fired me, and it taught me a lot,” laughs Forst, owner and operator of Stuart Ranch in Waurika and Caddo, Oklahoma.

The sudden unemployment from her family’s ranch that had been continuously owned and operated since 1868 sent her back to school at Texas Christian University for its Ranch Management program.

“That changed everything,” she says. “I learned that I didn’t know what I thought I did.”

Forst, one of four daughters born to Bob Stuart, took over ranch operations from her father in 1992, and today, she heads the operation at 7S Stuart Ranch along with her two sons, Clay and Robert. They are the sixth generation of Stuarts to operate the ranch, and they know as well as anyone that working with family is as tough as it is rewarding.

“There are always emotions involved with parents and kids, but our secret is that we always try to have a business relationship when it comes to the ranch.”

That business relationship is what caused her father to fire her, then rehire her years ago.

“When I took over, I laid out my terms and the parameters that I wanted to achieve. I told him that day, ‘If I can’t do these things, you need to find someone else,’” Forst says.

Working for her family’s ranch has also taught Forst to listen to her family. Her sons have great ideas, she says. It’s good business to pay attention to them.

“At the end of the day, we are a business. Period,” Forst says. “If we run like a business and think like a business, we will make money like a business. And that’s what we need to do.”

Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry

The History Behind Oklahoma’s Oldest Family Ranch

Stuart Ranch is the oldest ranch in Oklahoma under continuous family ownership, and Forst is proud and honored to carry on her family’s legacy.

The Stuart family first arrived to the Native American Choctaw Tribe lands in 1838, in what is now Oklahoma and Texas. By 1868, the family had settled just west of Caddo and began farming the fertile fields.

“To quote my grandmother Carrie Ida Freeny Stuart, in reference to our forefathers, ‘These beloved pioneers have left a great heritage for us. Many years of hardship and devotion to their country and family have produced hardy men of strong character. From this background came our great state of Oklahoma in which there is much pride among her people.’ I can’t tell you how important the history is to us,” Forst says.

Stuart Ranch Looks to the Future

While the history and traditions of Stuart Ranch are important, Forst knows better than anyone the necessity to evolve and keep up with business trends and market demands.

The ranch has diversified and today includes successful horse, cattle and outfitting divisions. Her sons help manage the cows and outfitting. It has diversified into breeding, leased stalls, horse shows, wildlife management, grain management and roping.

“Diversifying has helped us stay relevant and successful,” Forst says. “When some things are doing well, others aren’t doing so well. The diversification keeps us at a pretty even keel.”

Terry Stuart and sons. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry

The Next Generation for Stuart Ranch

Forst is aware of the shift in national priorities for growing food and the public’s interest in sustainability of agriculture and where their food comes from. Sustainability is a hard word to stick a definition to, Forst says. It is a buzzword that means more on the farm than it does to the public.

“We take care of our animals. We appreciate them and the business they’ve allowed us to manage and make our lives from since 1868,” she says.

Stuart Ranch is passionate about respecting its resources and taking care of its animals and people.

As she looks to the future, which includes two grandsons she is already grooming for hard work, Forst is keeping her options open.

“If I’ve learned anything in the past few years, it is to be more open-minded,” Forst says. “I’ve learned to think outside of the box. I say yes to things today that I would have said no to just a few years ago. I’m learning. I’m listening. I think that’s the most important part.”

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