Ranching at the Preserve
As they have been doing for over 100 years, cattle graze on the lush bluestem grass of the Flint Hills. Stephen F. Jones saw the value of these prairie grasses over a century ago and chose to make Chase, County Kansas his base of operation in 1878. His plan for a two-fold operation, both farm and stock ranch, was very successful. He named his ranch the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch for the plentiful spring found on the hill west of his 11-room Second Empire limestone mansion. Mr. Jones raised Hereford, Polled Angus, Galloway, and Durham cattle. This was over a century ago and things haven't changed much, except that cattle are now loaded onto large semi trucks versus railroads and transported to and from their next destination. Another change is that many mixed-breed cattle now graze these hills. The original grazers were the bison. Today both cattle and bison graze in separate pastures at the preserve. Both species help to promote diversity in the prairie.
Here at the preserve, cattle graze for 90 days. Cattle can gain over two pounds per day on the lush and nutrient rich grasses of the prairie. In the photo, the cattle are being "unloaded from the trucks one at a time," says ranch caretaker Gene Matile. Mr. Matile is responsible for counting how many head of cattle are off-loaded from the trucks, while keeping a careful eye to watch for sick or injured steers. Once the cattle are unloaded into the holding pens, they are then moved to various pastures where they graze and fatten before being sent to feedlots. During this time, Gene is responsible for taking care of the cattle by feeding mineral supplement, administering medicine as needed, and making sure the cattle remain in the pastures. Even before this cycle begins, he is responsible for burning last season's dead prairie grasses, that will in turn promote new growth.
Starting in mid July, cattle are gathered and loaded back onto the semi trucks for shipment to feedlots. Here are some photos from several days of "gatherin" in the Flint Hills at the preserve. These modern day cowboys utilize many of the same whistles, calls, and horsemanship techniques that have been used for centuries. Imagine the sounds made by the cattle and cowboys as both go about their daily routine. As the cattle make their way south from the far northern pastures to the loading pens, their low "bawling" sounds are met by the gentle, calming calls of the cowboys on horseback as they are driven to their next destination.
Cattle are herded from the pastures and wait their turn in the pens before loading onto the semi trucks.
Cattle are then loaded onto the semi trucks, making their way to feedlots.
It was a dusty, dirty day in the pens today. Cowboys Gene Matile, Norm Wilson, Bruce Brock and others assist in pushing and encouraging cattle through the loading chutes and onto the trucks.
Did You Know?
Cattle can gain up to 2 pounds per day grazing on the prairie grasses of the Flint Hills. The calcium found in the limestone erodes into the soil, making the prairie plants more nutritious for grazing animals. Cattle grazing is still the main agricultural use of the Flint Hills today.