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Steady and sustainable at the Bar S Ranch in Kansas

Heather Smith Thomas Published on 23 March 2012
Clint Bohnen follows cattle on a road leading to Bar S Ranch

The Stielow family raises registered Angus and Charolais cattle on their Bar S Ranch near Paradise, Kansas, homesteaded in 1900 by Ken Stielow’s grandfather. Ken went to Kansas State University and worked for the extension service for six years after getting degrees in ag econ, then came back to the ranch in 1975.

“My dad started the registered Angus herd. We added more registered Angus cows and started having production sales in 1990,” says Stielow.

“In the late 1990s we added Charolais seedstock to our program. This breed has worked well for us, since many Charolais breeders in this area were older and dropping out.”

His daughter and son-in-law, David and Stephanie Dickerson, joined the operation in the late 1990s when they got out of college.They have three sons who started showing cattle at a young age.

“They’ve done very well with Charolais heifers and had the Grand Champion female at the Nebraska State Fair, Kansas State Fair and the Tulsa State Fair,” says Stielow.

“Last year at Denver they had the champion pen of three Charolais bulls, champion pen of three Charolais heifers, champion Charolais female and they owned part of the Grand Champion Charolais bull. I think the showing has helped our exposure in the Charolais bull market.”

The Bar S bull sale is held at the ranch every March, with a steady clientele of mostly small to medium-size commercial customers in the area and a growing number outside their area.Some of their customers buy Charolais bulls to use in terminal crossbreeding programs.

The Angus program focuses on moderate and maternal traits, such as efficiency and calving ease. Commercial bull customers appreciate the balanced traits and are happy with the offspring. “Sustainability in a small to mid-size operation is very important,” explains Stielow.

“The most important thing for the commercial producer is still calving ease, cow breedback, cow longevity and all the things that go into producing an efficient, growthy calf to go into the feeding sector,” he says.

The Bar S breeding program doesn’t select for extremes that could compromise efficiency and productivity of the cowherd.

“We’ve been ultrasound-scanning our bulls for a long time and were first in our area to offer that information, long before any EPDs were built around them. We furnish a lot of data on all the bulls.”

The Stielows own part interest in a feeding company 60 miles from the ranch and all the cattle that don’t get sold as breeding stock are fed out.

“Usually our cull bulls feed and grade with the top end of the cattle coming out of the feedlot. So we’re not giving up much by not being focused on carcass traits,” he says.

The Bar S bull program

“We sample some outcross bulls every year and have a significant A.I. program,” says Stielow. “We give every female a chance to be bred A.I. every year, through synchronization programs, then use clean-up bulls. We have a small crew and try to expose about 800 females each year to our A.I. program.”

The past few years, to split the workload, they held one set of cows a couple months later in calving.

Yearling bulls come out of the February calving group and calves from the later group are summered their yearling year and sold as 2-year-olds.

The ranch runs 700 cows and 100 heifers, with 75 percent of the females being Angus and 25 percent Charolais. They sell about 200 bulls per year.

“We sell a few bulls private treaty after the sale. We try to keep some inventory in case someone suddenly needs a bull.

We feel we do a better job of servicing our customers if we always have some for sale,” he says. Some Charolais bull calves go to a large ranch in Texas, contracted right after weaning. This buyer wants to acclimate them to that environment.

Some customers want bulls with a little more age, especially producers with small herds, wanting to get by with fewer bulls or running cattle on rangeland with lots of rough country.

“Probably about 10 percent of our bulls are marketed as coming 2-year-olds, and another 10 percent are fall yearlings (at sale time in March),” says Stielow.

“The rest are spring yearlings. Some people come to our sale looking for older bulls that can service more cows during a tough breeding season. We sell some of these older bulls to a ranch in the panhandle in Texas, and they really like them.

“If people come to our sale for older bulls and don’t get quite as many as they need, they often like the looks of the yearlings and buy some of them as well.

This has been a good merchandising program, even though we have more time and expense in growing a 2-year-old bull.

We also make sure he’s not a ‘leftover’ bull. We hold some back from private treaty sales and make sure the best of them make it to the sale,” he explains.

The operation

“We have 100 head of fall calving registered cows to break up the workload. With just my son-in-law, myself, one full-time hired man and some day workers, it’s a challenge to get a lot of cows bred efficiently at one time,” says Stielow.

They also farm 3,000-plus acres of cultivated land, growing winter feed. For many years they also had 10 quarterhorse brood mares and offered a few long-weanling colts in the sale.

“We had a lot of repeat customers for these. Raising horses is something we enjoy, since we do most of our cattle work on horseback,” he says.

They no longer have their old stallion they had for many years. “We cut down to seven mares but didn’t breed them for a year or two,” he says.

“Then I had a chance to buy a stallion from one of the ranchers we sell bulls to. He’s an excellent using horse, so I bought him and bred my mares last year; we’ll have some foals again this spring. It’s always nice to have good horses and the grandkids will be needing horses.

“In our cattle breeding, we try to be a full service program and sponsor feeder calf sales at the local auction barn for our customers, furnishing a lot of information and contract buyers. We’ve been doing this for about 20 years.

It’s predominantly an Angus sale and has been a really good market; we bring in some special buyers. Originally we started this because straight Angus calves in the early 1990s were not yet bringing a premium.”

His wife, Pat, is the ranch bookkeeper. Daughter Stephanie does most of the computer and bookwork for all the registered cattle.

Stielow has also been active in industry organizations, serving a term on the Cattlemen’s Beef Board that oversees the beef checkoff on a national level and on the executive committee of the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

“This has been a good education, meeting people on a national level. It takes a lot of work, but you get to deal with many issues that you are not exposed to out on the ranch.”  end_mark

PHOTO

Clint Bohnen follows cattle on a road leading to the Bar S Ranch near Paradise, Kansas. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Dickerson.

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