• The setting sun over the Flint Hills casts shadows across the wide expanse of tallgrass prairie.

    Tallgrass Prairie

    National Preserve Kansas

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  • Reminder, Bison Are Wild Animals

    Windmill Pasture is home to the bison herd. They have been quite active in recent weeks. Please stay on the trails and use caution in their vicinity. Do not come in close contact with the bison. Allow at least 100 yards between you and the herd. More »

  • Handicap Parking Available at Visitor Center

    For the next several months, the handicap parking area by the barn is closed until the barn construction project is complete. Handicap parking is available at the Visitor Center.

Ranching at the Preserve

unloading cattle at the preserve

Caretaker Gene Matile counts each steer coming off the trucks.

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.

 
cattle waiting for directions

Cattle awaiting instruction before moving to a pasture.

Unloading Cattle

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.

 
cattle play follow the leader

Loading Cattle

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 in the pens

Cattle are herded from the pastures and wait their turn in the pens before loading onto the semi trucks.

 
loading cattle onto the trucks

Loading or "pushing" cattle onto the trucks

Cattle are then loaded onto the semi trucks, making their way to feedlots.

 
cattle and cowboys eating dust

Eatin' dust at the preserve

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?

Spring Hill Ranch at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Stephen F. Jones spent the modern equivalent of about $1.9 million building the Spring Hill Ranch complex including the stone fences, but only owned the property for 10 years and occupied the limestone ranch house for 5 1/2 years. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve