Verner Ranch expanding in a big way -- with Verner Family Clydesdales

·7 min read

Sep. 3—What's in a name? Some people call the big ranch west of McAlester the Verner Ranch. Others call it the Big V Ranch.

Both are OK with David Verner.

"It's recognized either way," he said.

The spread is well-known to many in the area. Along with the ranch itself, it also served as the headquarters for the late Christine Verner's art studio and gallery.

For a number of years, drivers along U.S. Highway 270 could see buffalos grazing in the pastures. Now, the Verners have moved to another animal of near-mammoth proportions — the big draft horses known as Clydesdales.

In addition to the ranch, members of the Verner family own and operate Big V Feeds in McAlester — a major manufacturer and supplier of livestock feed not only in Oklahoma, but in much of the region as well.

Roots of the Verner Ranch go back 54 years, when the family's patriarch began purchasing land that now lies within the ranch's boundaries.

David Verner's father, Bill Verner, started putting the ranch together in 1968. Within four years, Bill Verner and his wife, Christine Verner, had a new home on the site that's now known as the Verner Ranch.

"He and my mom built a house out there in 1972," David Verner said. They also raised a family of seven children.

As the family continued to grow, the ranch expansion continued. As different pieces of land were offered for sale adjacent to or near the existing ranch, his father purchased the property, David said. Eventually, David and his wife, Kari, purchased some land in the vicinity as well.

"Kari and I bought another 380 acres along Highway 270 that jumps the ranch," he said. Then another 200 acres became available.

Today, the total ranch covers about 5,500 acres, David said.

"Dad's land runs on the south side,"he said. "Dad's the major landowner. It's one big piece of property."

Recently the Verner family has been involved in a large expansion of another kind— putting together the Verner Family Clydesdales. The family's Clydesdales have participated in local parades and have been on hand for other outside events

The Verners already owns a number of the massive draft horses. "Right now, we have 18," David said — and plans call for that number to increase.

It takes someone with a certain skill set to guide the huge Clydesdales when they are hitched to a wagon or other device. Verner Clydesdales pull everything from a classic hitch wagon to a stagecoach. The family hired Don Lingille and his wife, Vonda Lingville, to help train, drive and manage the horses. David said Don Lingille lives in the Meeker area north of Shawnee, where some of the horses are trained, and he also comes to tMcAlester to work with the horses at the ranch.

"We were fortunate to find him," David said, noting Don Lingille's experience and background in dealing with Clydesdales.

Hopes are more than simply having the Clydesdales available when needed for a parade, fair or other event. The plan is to also improve the big breed — an area where Lingille's knowledge should be helpful in selecting some of the best draft equines. "He knows his blood lines," David said.

Other team members are also learning to handle the big horses.

"We've also hired a young couple," and the two will also work with the Clydesdales, David said. His nephew, Lane Verner, who also works with the Clydesdales, David Verner added.

While many Clydesdales have an official registered name, the horses' names are shortened, or they're given nicknames for daily use, such as when they're being driven as a team. Instead of a fancy, official moniker, they might be called by names such Jim, or Ed, for example — and there's a reason for that. It's a tradition dating back to Scotland and also had a practical use, because the team driver can get a horse's attention more quickly with a shorter name: "Jim!"

David and other family members of the family have high hopes for the Verner Clydesdales.

"We just want them to be the face of the of the Verner family and Big V Feeds," David said. Along the way, the hope is also help the Clydesdales.

"We look at it as a way to help the breed survive," he said.

That's a real concern. The Clydesdale breed is on the Watch List of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Populations numbers of Clydesdales, which originated in Scotland, began to dwindle after World War II, when the large draft horses were not needed as much to pull huge loads as tractor use became more and more common.

Currently, there are more Clydesdales in the United States than anywhere else in the world, including Scotland. Approximately 600 new Clydesdales are registered in the U.S. each year — and the Verner family is expecting to add to the total through developing its own Clydesdale breeding program,

The family's newest Clydesdale stud is expected to arrive soon, David said. Verner Clydesdales are kept at the ranch. Plans are to build a larger barn and facility at the site with the goal of one day making it available to the public as a showcase for the large draft horses.

Recently the family restored the sign that had been in place at the ranch when Christine Verner had operated her art studio. David said the family did not want to see the sign deteriorate and didn't want to take it down, so they had it redone in their mother's honor. "We kept it and redid it," he said.

For now, the studio is closed, although the family is considering reopening it from time-to-time so visitors can see the studio and the art inside it.

"She was a great artist," David Verner said.

Big V Feeds had its beginnings with David's grandfather and Bill's father, Woodrow Verner, who had been in the feed business for years, working at another feed store before going out on his own. Today, Big V Feeds is one of the largest livestock feed producers and manufacturers in the region. "We cover most of Oklahoma, most of Arkansas, southern Kansas and southern Missouri," David Verner said. "We pretty much cover all of East Texas, all the way to Houston," he added. Big V Feeds also covers part of Louisiana, including the New Orleans area, he said.

"We are a lot larger company than most people here realize," David said. "We have about 175 employees," he added, with approximately 160 of those in the McAlester area. The rest are salesmen, he said.

Big V's customers include both independent operators and chain stores. In addition, Big V operates its own feed stores in McAlester, Kiowa and Ada. Big V Feeds also owns a fleet of vehicles to deliver the feed that's produced in McAlester, iwith the fleet including including 35 power units, or semi tractors, and more than 300 trailers.

Bill Verner serves as CEO of Big V Feeds, with David Verner president and John Allford working as operations manager.

David Verner said stockholders in Big V Feeds include Bill Verner and all seven of the Verner family siblings: David Verner, Steve Verner, Mike Verner, Vikki Verner Hall, Chrystie Verner Sindahl, Elizabeth "Libby" Verner Tobey and Racheal "Missy Verner.

Everyone at Big V contributes to its success, David Verner said.

"It takes the whole team," he said. "We could not be successful without the whole team being a part of it." David feels that with each team member playing his or her part, everything will normally fall into place as planned.

"It's a well-oiled machine," David said of the Big V Feeds operation. "We're only as good as our people and our customers" — and that's pretty good as far as he's concerned.

"The people we deal with are great," he said.

What is the key to Big V Feeds' success?

"We're pretty humble," David said. "We realize God's had a big effect." He also feels a bit of something else may also play a role from time-to-time.

"We all have to recognize there's some luck involved," David said.

He said the family and other team members have all contributed to the Big V Feeds' success.

"We're hard workers and we've had really good people come in and guide us," David said. "We're still evolving and we're still looking at opportunities," he added — with one of the more recent opportunities involving the Verner Family Clydesdales. All of the team members are enthusiastic about the new venture with the huge draft horses.

"We're really proud of it," David said. "We're going to get it where people can come out and see them."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.