Ranchers Tell Flint Hills Beef Story At Symphony

“There’s no place like the Flint Hills.”

Three “contemporary” ranchers made that emphasis during one of the Ranching in the Flint Hills presentations at the Symphony in the Flint Hills.

Mike Beam from the Kansas Livestock Association moderated the speakers on “Ranching Through The Seasons” at the Leet Pasture on a hill west of Bushong in Lyon County.

Brian Keith, Allen; Richard Porter, Miller; and Tom Moxley, Council Grove, told about their specific ranches, and reviewed important economic implications for the cattle industry and the Flint Hills.

Keith specializes in back-grounding and preconditioning cattle at his 3,000-head capacity on-ranch feedlot.

“With my son, Justin, and one hired employee, we operate about 12,000 acres of mostly- rented Flint Hills pasture and annually graze 3,000 cattle, in addition to keeping 200 stock cows, with their calves finished to slaughter weight at a custom feedlot,” Keith said.

Porter has what he described as “strictly a growing program,” for 8,000 cattle. But Porter clarified, “We have finished cattle in the past, and they became so valuable I had to sell them. We’ll probably get back to finishing cattle at some point.”

Utilizing eight employees for his extensive farming and ranching, Porter added that both Keith and Moxley are “good friends” who respectively “also start cattle and graze cattle” for him.

Featuring cattle growing and grazing operations, Moxley emphasized, “The Flint Hills are the most efficient way to put pounds on cattle from April through early July. Grasses are so high in protein and minerals, that gains are similar to feeding corn.”

“While grass protein declines in the summer, growth continues, and the prairies supply energy for cattle year around,” added Moxley, who didn’t reveal the size of his operation, but indicated that one worker is needed for about 1,000 head of cattle.

Keith clarified, “We often ‘double-stock’ pastures by grazing more cattle for 90-days when the protein level is high, rather than full season stocking for six months.

“Our cattle gains are sharply higher, and it gives grass time to rebuild roots,” Keith added.

Noting that water is essential for grass and cattle, Porter, in a tongue-in-cheek tone, said. “It’s often too wet to plant crops in the spring, and too wet to harvest in the fall, while we’re praying for rain to keep pastures growing during the summer.”

Although stock cows can graze the Flint Hills year around, Keith said, “They will require supplemental protein when grass matures, and we often do that with dry and wet distillers byproducts, which are more economical than corn.

“We also utilize feed grains’ stalks along with wheat and rye pasture for our cows,” he related.

Horses are important to the Flint Hills, the threesome agreed, adding that “four-wheelers aren’t as good as horses for working with cattle.”

“We raise horses and ride horses every day in our operation,” Keith stated. “The only time we use a four-wheeler is to fix fence, and when we burn.”

“Cowboys on good horses have been essential to handling cattle in the Flint Hills ever since cattle were driven up from Texas 150 years ago,” Porter contended. “Later, cattle were shipped by trains and unloaded at stockyards, where cowboys waited to move them to the Flint Hills.”

Cowboys looked after cattle throughout the summer, and then in the fall rounded up the older and larger cattle that had gained sufficiently to again be shipped by rail to slaughter, continued Porter.

Today cattle are younger coming off Flint Hills grazing and typically go into feedlots for “finishing,” but cowboys are still needed to care for them.

“We’re fortunate in the Flint Hills to have capable cowboys who help look after cattle on pastures and assist at round-up time. You don’t have to go very far, east or west, and there isn’t that kind of help,” Moxley said.

“It’s essential to have a well-trained, coordinated crew at roundup, because if cattle get excited, it can be very costly. When cattle become stressed, they lose pounds, and with the market at today’s levels, you can lose thousands of dollars in minutes,” Moxley insisted.

Humane treatment of livestock is essential to profitability from every aspect. “We love our cattle,” Porter said.

Burning native Flint Hills pasture has been a controversial issue from many aspects, but the cattlemen insisted it is “essential.”

“Not only do cattle gains sharply improve when pastures are burned, but fire is necessary to control trees and other intruders,” rationalized Porter, explaining that controlled burns reduce hazards and environmental concerns about smoke.

Intrusive plants such as sericea lespedeza are a serious concern and continual battle for cattlemen.

Keith and Porter detailed how feedlot wastes are handled to increase land fertility, but yet protect water sources from contamination.

“We want to keep our beautiful Flint Hills just like it has been for centuries,” Keith inserted.

“There are no grasslands in the world like the Flint Hills to produce beef which people sure do like to eat,” Moxley concluded.