From the category archives:

Farms and ranches

Spring at the Lazy Heart D Buffalo Ranch.

By Brett Ziegler
WESTMORELAND – The North American Bison, commonly known as buffalo, still roam the Kansas prairie. Ed Dillinger operates Lazy Heart D Buffalo Ranch, the family’s ranch brand that started in the 1960s and is located northeast of Manhattan.

Dillinger grew up on a farm near Brewster in western Kansas. When he and his wife, Susan, moved to Westmoreland in 1994, they started out with beef calves and horses, but Dillinger also had an interest in bison. After extensive research and talking with other ranchers, the Dillingers started the Lazy Heart D Bison Ranch.

Dillinger’s herd began with five heifer calves that he purchased from Circle 3 Ranch in Longford. A year later he purchased five more, and eventually another five. That was all he could afford at the time.

Rancher Ed Dillinger

So, how does Dillinger run the operation by himself?

The secret, he says, is to understand the bison. They are gentle creatures; bison love their space and are athletic, smart and strong. On average, a bull can weigh between 1,600 and 2,000 pounds compared to the average cow, which can weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds.  Bison can run up to 35 miles per hour and leap up to six feet in the air.

Time is another key ingredient. Dillinger says bison are a low maintenance creature. He has a saying, “Whatever time it takes, that’s buffalo time.”

Dillinger characterizes his “buffalo philosophy” with the quote, “Take what you can get and figure out how to use it.” This comes from his experience in working and sorting his bison.  They are too smart, fast, and strong to impose a single plan without well-designed facilities.  He is always ready to adjust his plans at any moment.

Dillinger’s bison graze on cool season grasses like brome and fescue during the months of March to April and after November. Bison prefer native grass between the months of May and November. The bison also enjoy small amounts of hay during the summer.

Health is a big concern when it comes to livestock, especially internal parasites. There are currently no bison vaccines available, but some ranchers used bovine vaccines as a precaution.

On the other hand, bison do benefit from treatment for internal parasites.  Ivomec and Cydection are two examples of treatments. These treatments can be poured on the back, injected, or fed. Dillinger uses the pour method at least once a year and believes there is additional benefit in utilizing two treatments spaced over the year.

Dillinger thinks the future in bison will fluctuate depending on the demand for meat. “The interest comes from the consumer,” he said. “There are not enough bison to make money compared to cattle.”

There are roughly 100 bison ranchers in Kansas and 70 are part of the Kansas Bison Association. The number of bison on each ranch range from five to 200 head.

Regulations for bison are similar to those of cattle. Meat inspectors and buffalo certificates are required and Dillinger says ranchers in Kansas work closely with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

The purchasing and demand of bison has increased over the past several months.  There has been approximately 50 percent increase in price. In the fall of 2010 the price was $2.60 to $2.75 a pound. This spring it was up to $3.50 a pound.

Although the price of bison seems expensive, the nutrition profile makes it worth the cost.  Bison is full of nutrients and high in protein while low in fat. The fat it contains are “good” fats—mono and polyunsaturated fat. Bison also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Lastly, bison is a good source of vitamin B12 and iron.

Dillinger’s main goals are providing fun and eventful tours to complement the industry and have meat available for those who wish to purchase it. He enjoys the opportunity to interact with others as his schedule permits.

On tours, it takes tourists approximately 15 minutes to realize the difference in bison interaction. The bison will greet visitors, waiting for feed. This is a great way to have a close up experience and is one of the many reasons the job is heart-warming and rewarding.

When asked if he would change anything, Dillinger responded, “If what I did took me where I am now, I’d do it the same.”

Dillinger laughed when asked how much longer he would like to stay in the business, “I’ll go until I am pushing up daisies.”

Dillinger can be reached at lhdranch@wamego.net

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Courtesy of McCarty Dairy

By Amanda Rall

REXFORD – Four generations of McCartys have owned and operated the family dairy business over the past century.  Though when Tom McCarty heads out for his morning chores the smell might be the same, the view is much different than what his grandfather before him might have seen.

When McCarty’s grandfather plotted the location of their dairy in Pennsylvania there was an abundance of open, green pasture.  A few generations later, the family found themselves fighting traffic with their tractors. Outside industry was suffocating their ideas of advancement. “To bring the boys in, we had to get bigger,” says McCarty about their four sons.

Tom, along with his wife and business partner, Judy McCarty, decided to leave their northeastern Pennsylvania home in search of land, lots of it. The solution to their stifling situation was a move to the plains of northwest Kansas. They sold their livestock and equipment and brought along only the essentials- family.

The couple, with their four young sons, hoped to make the best out of the change in scenery. The motivating force for the migration of the McCartys was to give their sons an opportunity to make a livelihood in the same way their great-grandfather had.

The four McCarty boys have all had their hands in the dairy business. David manages a dairy near Syracuse while Mike, Clay and Ken took on the McCarty Dairy in Thomas County and most recently the Bird City Dairy in Cheyenne County. The expertise of the veteran dairy farmers made the difficult transition possible.

After some debate on where to relocate, the family bought an existing farm five miles west of Rexford. The construction of the dairy began from scratch. With help from Kansas State University agricultural engineer and dairy specialists, plans for the free-stall barn, milking parlor and lagoon soon developed. Recent changes have been made to the diary including a heifer yard, where the family raises 3500 head of heifers at one time, according to McCarty.

The farm is not the only thing expanding. The McCarty family has grown since their 1999 move to Kansas. With four daughter-in-laws and eight grandchildren, and the ninth on the way, it seems the family business might be stay in the family for another generation. When Paeton, the oldest grandchild, was asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he says, “A dairy farmer, like my dad.”

Others have joined the McCarty family that do not carry the trademark last name. Of these include the dairy’s 20 employees. The first person employed at the McCarty dairy, Lionel Loya, is still with the operation over 11 years later.

Economic stimulus: Welcomed outcome of the dairy development

The main priority of the McCarty’s business move from Pennsylvania to Kansas may have been in the best interest of their family but the move turned out to be in the best interests for their new community.

The McCarty Dairy has made an impact on the surrounding area’s economic status, initially through the building process where local merchants and contractors profited from the demand for their services. Now, years after its development, the dairy continues to stimulate the area’s businesses.  Enrollment at local school districts has grown.

From ongoing feed and material purchases to hiring silage crews the dairy is always finding ways to put money back into the community. The dairy has not stopped growing either. Since the initial construction plan was finished, the dairy has added four open lot pens of milking cows, cool water misters, shades and a heifer yard, all of which required either hiring contractors or buying significant amounts of material from lumberyards and other local merchants.

The dairy workers’ families have helped the Golden Plains School District in Rexford thrive while other schools in northwest Kansas are at high risk for consolidation or even closure. Most of the employees from the dairy live in the Golden Plains School District and of the 20 employees, 15 have families that make up about 40 children, according to Mrs. McCarty.

As residents with Hispanic heritage moved to Rexford, drawn by employment at the dairy, the need for bilingual educators at the school became evident. In 2000, the district hired the first bilingual interpreter. During the 2000-2001 school year, four of Golden Plains’ teachers began work on their English as a Second Language endorsement.

The Golden Plains School District will receive state aid and a bilingual weighted full-time equivalency rating for each bilingual child. The Kansas Legislative Research Department describes the weight as being determined by multiplying the full-time equivalent enrollment in bilingual education programs approved by the State Board of Education by a factor of 0.395. Revenue generated by the weight must be spent either for bilingual or at-risk education.

Following in their footsteps

The positive results from the development of the McCarty Dairy of Rexford did not go unnoticed by other Kansas residents. The Bird City Century II Development Foundation, aware of the benefits Rexford was gaining from the close proximity to the McCarty dairy, asked the family to expand into a second dairy at Bird City.

“The boys took on all the responsibilities of the Bird City expansion,” McCarty said. Their past experience of moving across the country gave them a good idea of what to expect in their venture. The Bird City dairy is a partnership between Mike, Clay and Ken McCarty.

The community of Bird City hoped that bringing in a dairy would also bring an influx of business to their community and add kids in the classrooms of their diminishing school system. The U.S. Department of Rural Development, providing additional loan money, along with private credit offered the McCartys the support they needed to help bring added jobs to a remote area of the state.

By the summer of 2006, the dairy’s design was completed and 19 new jobs would soon be offered through the new dairy development. On Sept. 13, 2007 the dairy began milking cows. The Bird City Dairy, like the McCarty Dairy, is efficient. The operation runs 24 hours a day and milks 1800 cows three times a day.

Troubles to overcome

Dairies across the country, like the McCarty Dairy of Rexford, have seen the price of commodities grow to outstanding ratios to the price of milk. During the lowest milk prices the family had seen within the decade, they luckily had contracts out for milk at a higher price, the family reports. They feared that if the situation did not improve by the time those contracts expired, the development would face a large revenue deficit.

Recently, milk prices have steadily increased, with much relief to dairy farmers. However, dealing with the volatile market of milk, the McCartys never get to comfortable and always plan for the unexpected.

The fourth generation of McCarty dairy farmers has also been faced with new challenges that dairy farmers a few decades ago never had to experience.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been a government mandate for increased food safety and defense against agroterrorism. “Each truck is equipped with a safety seal that has to be broken before milk is loaded onto the truck, then resealed and must be intact in order for the load can be delivered,” McCarty explains. This insures that no tampering has occurred with the product during shipment.

The McCartys may be successful businessmen and women; however, you will rarely see them in a stereotypical suit and tie. They prefer to work alongside their employees and will always know the meaning of hard work.

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By Grant Guggisberg

OLSBURG – Drive 30 minutes north of Manhattan, and you’ll find a country road just off K-16. Another mile or so on that gravel road leads to a well-kept ranch-style home where Craig and Amy Good have lived for more than 25 years.

The two own around 900 acres, but most of that is just pasture. For the business they own and operate, they don’t need nearly that much space. Like much of the farms along the Kansas countryside, the Goods spend their days raising livestock. However, at Good Farms, the focus is on swine, specifically, purebred Duroc hogs.

Operating as a producer for Heritage Foods USA, the Goods raise two breeds of purebred swine, as well as around 100 head of certified Angus beef and various crops. Their proven specialty is their Duroc swine, which Craig Good claims has more flavor and consumer appeal than other pork.

“The purebred Duroc is a really good breed for production, in terms of growing quickly and efficiently,” Craig Good said. “The Durocs have a reputation as having good meat quality as well.”

A farmer from the start

Craig Good has been working with animals for nearly 50 years. His father bought the Good farm in 1964 and he spent most of his summers working on the farm. Craig Good graduated in 1975 with a degree in Animal Science from Kansas State, and after six years of working in Junction City, moved to his childhood family farm to try and earn a living raising hogs.

“In 1981, we decided that we wanted to try coming up here on our own,” Amy Good said. “So the man that we’d been working for in Junction City helped us get a start in hogs.”

They purchased a pair of red sows that the Goods took to the lab for testing and veterinary care before bringing home a litter of baby pigs that formed the base of their farm. Initially, they sold breeding stock in pigs before making the transformation to producer and working exclusively with purebred Duroc swine.

“In the 1990s, the swine industry really started to change,” Amy Good said. “It started becoming corporatized and in to really large, large operations. We just never had the goal to be big. But at the same time, we were losing our customers, because they needed to buy from someone bigger than we were.”

Staying on top

In the early 2000s, the Goods signed on with Heritage Foods USA, a company that partners with farmers to form niche markets for specialty foods. The Duroc pig is not a rare breed, but to have meat from a purebred Duroc hog is rare. Most purebred Durocs are crossbred with other types of pig to create the hybrid breeds that make up the majority of all pork products in America. Instead, the Goods are selective with their breeding, using the hogs with the best qualities to breed and create the next generation of swine.

“I was always taught that pork quality is either acceptable or unacceptable,” Craig Good said. “But we’ve found that there are differences. Within acceptable, there is okay, and really good.”

It’s the Good’s mission to continually strive for top-level meat quality any way they can. While Craig Good admitted his farm is less advanced technologically than the larger farms, he uses technology, such as ultrasound, to enhance his product. He also gets feedback from Heritage Foods, which allows him to make choices that continue to improve the quality of the meat. They even went so far as to host their customers for a tour of the farm.

“Heritage Foods brought a group of chefs out,” Amy Good said. “Some from the San Francisco area and from New York City, they came and spent a couple days with us out on the farm. They got to know the farmer that raises some of their meat, so we’ve really enjoyed that aspect.”

While Good Farms produces a higher quality of meat than his big-name counterparts, Craig Good recognized the need for large farms.

“We’re happy to do what we do and serve our niche market,” Craig Good said. “But what we do won’t feed the world.”

Partnering with Heritage Foods USA

The Good’s partnership with Heritage Foods allows them to focus completely on creating a high-quality product. Heritage Foods does all of the marketing and distribution for them, meaning they just deliver the hogs to the processing plant in Trimble, Mo., and go home. From there, Heritage Foods markets the meat to restaurants and chefs that will pay the added premium that goes with purebred Duroc meat.

“We tried having our own private label and just marketing some meat locally,” Amy Good said. “It’s really difficult to do what we do, and then also market our own product. Plus, what you get into on a small scale, it’s so expensive to take one hog at a time and have it processed.”

Experimenting successfully

Going into business with Heritage Foods has allowed the Goods to form a niche market on a national scale for Duroc hogs, something they never could have done on their own. It also allows them to experiment a bit, something Craig Good isn’t afraid to do. He bought a large amount of dried cranberries and plums to feed his hogs to try and change the way the meat tastes. Sure enough, the meat had a distinct alternate flavor that proved popular among the chefs that normally buy from the Goods.

“They had really good positive feedback,” Craig Good said of the cranberry pork. “They could tell the difference, but it was hard to put a finger on what exactly it was. But most of them said they thought the difference was in the fat.”

The Goods enjoyed the experiment, and the pigs did too. The swine enjoyed the fruit much more than the usual oats. Craig Good said he’d consider trying something like that again, once the economy picks back up.

The Goods are also experimenting with a new breed of swine. They acquired a few Gloucestershire Old Spot hogs, an extremely rare breed of hog that is disappearing in North America. This experiment is still early in its stages, but the spotted baby pigs running around the farm create a contrast with the mostly red Duroc swine.

Staying occupied

In addition to experiments, partnering with Heritage Foods has also allowed the farm to stay small, which was always their plan. Between the nursery and the pens for the adult hogs, they typically have around 600 swine at any one time. The Goods employ just one full-time helper, and he mainly works with the cattle.

“We have two children, but they’re both away from the farm,” Amy Good said. “From time to time, we have some part-time help that comes out as well.”

In the meantime, the Goods work hard throughout the year, on more than a full-time basis. Their only breaks come in the fall, where they splurge by purchasing tickets to K-State home football games.

“There’s a lot of things I don’t do,” Craig Good said. “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, I don’t have a boat and I don’t have a summer home in the mountains.

“So, I get football tickets.”

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