Piester Ranch of Haviland, Kansas is the 2016 recipient of the Kiowa County Banker’s Award in Rangeland Conservation. The award is sponsored by Greensburg State Bank, A Branch of SJN Bank of Kansas.
In 1919, Ron Piester’s grandfather purchased a ranch in southeast Kiowa County, Kansas from Helen Rockefeller the widow of Frank Rockefeller, who was a brother to John D. Rockefeller. A lot has changed in the last 98 years, but the family still derives a living from the rolling grassland of Kiowa County, located eight miles south of Wellsford or fourmiles northeast of Belvidere in Kiowa County and directly west of Croft in Pratt County. Piester Ranch is currently managed by Ron and Brenda Piester. Ron’s father managed it before him and his sons Austin and Andrew Piester are now involved in the ranch along with his mother Betty Piester.
Assisting in day to day operations is Wayne Boughner, cowboy and ranch hand. Ron has made marked impacts in his operation. In viewing and working with the Piester operation, one can easily see how much the rangeland means to Ron and his family. The Piester Ranch has divided up the headquarters ranch into approximately 40 primary paddocks with additional paddocks in their irrigate circle.
This is quite the change from the original operation. Ron has utilized division fences, adding hotwire to make paddocks to for his cattle to graze upon in a rotational grazing system. Cattle are moved according to grazing resources, depending on the season, two to four days per rotation or more often if conditions are required. Ron has seen an increase in the net productivity of his range through his management practices.
Ron said that through the recent drought, he was able to keep stock on the ranch due to the rotational grazing and resting paddocks, instead of them being completely grazed off. Ron also utilizes his irrigated quarter for beef production.
The circle is not located in the most accessible location. The original intent of the circle was to aid in feed production when the irrigation capabilities were developed. After crop farming and a change in management style, Ron has made his circle work for his operation and livestock.
Ron is experimenting with cover crop blends that can be grazed by his livestock. He uses a minimal amount of water and has seen greater returns than with row cropping or broad acre cropping. Piester Ranch is utilizing different cover crop blends such as turnips, radishes, triticale, and wheat for fall and winter grazing. In the spring, Ron will use cowpeas, sorghum feed, oats, and bean species. The combination of the different crops allows for high protein nutrient sinks in the form of legumes, compaction reduction with turnips and radishes, and high energy feed produced by the grass crops on the irrigated circle.
Rotational grazing, by default has helped reduce the labor force needed to move cattle. Ron lamented that he or Wayne can easily move the cattle together with just the two of them, utilizing a UTV and pickup. Ron also stated that the cows know the routine and from time to time, all you have to do is open the gate to the next patch and they will move themselves. Ron plans on building more paddocks and continues researching, attending lectures, and implementing rangeland management techniques, leaving the land better for the next generation.
Brush and tree control has been made easier in the smaller paddocks. Brush and tree control is vital to the operation as the southern end of the ranch is fed by springs and streams originating just north of the homestead. Water is a big consideration for the ranch. Ron has installed tanks to hold water that is pumped and can fill enough to water all the cows in the paddock for multiple, in case the wind does not blow for windmills or a pump would go down.
The Piesters are also working on eliminating Old World Bluestem from the operation. They have identified and isolated patches that they are trying to remove from their rangeland.