For five decades, my family has been ranching in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Nearly every one of those years we've taken in stocker cattle for our custom grazing business.
The cattle come to our ranch outside of Eureka, Kan., in the spring and leave approximately 90 days later in the summer. Those cattle stay on the native grass pastures surrounding our ranch.
This year we took in nearly 3,300 head of steers that originated from farms and ranches all over the country. They arrived in mid-April and left in mid-July.
With the help of our family, friends and neighbors are able to gather and ship the cattle out to feedlots in western Nebraska and Kansas in just a week's time.
Here is a look back at shipping season on the Bechtel Ranch:
To start out we move far off pastures via gooseneck trailers and our groundload. Here are a few of our helpers making sure we have the right count.
We unload the steers at traps near our shipping pens so they'll be ready to go if we have trouble gathering any pastures.
The steers enjoy grazing on belly deep grass in the traps that haven't been touched since the winter.
Ten trucks show up to the ranch every morning at 6:30 for five days.
We weigh a few drafts of steers every morning to figure out how the trucks will be loaded. Most of the time we load between 62 and 65 head per truck.
Individual groups of cattle are moved into a large working pen where they are held until the truckers call for more cattle.
The cattle are pushed on horseback into the working barn.
They go straight up the alley to the loading chute.
One or two people on horseback will crowd the cattle up the alley where they are counted one last-time before heading west.
Occasionally a maverick calf breaks from the group in the working pen, but it will still make its way up the alley to the semi trailer.
When more cattle are needed to load another pot during the morning we bring them up from our holding pens.
The steers are held in pens with access to hay, water and shade for approximately 12 hours prior to being shipped.
We gather the cattle on ATVs and have the feed truck lead them up to their new pasture.
Eventually, the steers end up in a centralized shipping trap that is a half-mile from the pens.
In the evenings we take the cattle out of the shipping traps.
We wait in the trees until it appears enough cattle are going down the road. Sometimes it takes several trips, but there is no need to stress the cattle by rushing too many to the pens.
A few riders trail the cattle on the road while two riders travel alongside the cattle near the exterior fences.
Once the dust settles in the pens, it is time to count the cattle.
The steers are counted and brands are checked. Then they are sent to the holding pens, where they'll wait until the next morning to be taken to their new feedlot homes.
The steers get a little more cake in the evenings to go along with their hay in the pens.
Everyone is happy by dark after getting some dinner, especially the cattle.
And like that, another year of grazing stocker cattle at the Bechtel Ranch is done. In fewer than nine months, we'll be getting the next group of stockers, and it won't be too long before we're shipping cattle again.