Charlie Smies has growing bison herd
"Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam." Up in
the hills of northern Jewell County the buffalo do roam, and Charlie
Smies lives in the home he was born and raised in. It once belonged
to his grandparents.
Charlie graduated from Courtland High School. In 1974, he graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in sociology and a minor in family and child development. Upon college graduation Charlie had many opportunities for big city jobs but decided in a very small amount of time he did not want to be a big city person.
"I worked for two years moving houses to pay off my college debts and in 1976 moved here, more to save my grandparents' home than anything else. But I also realized I needed a job or something to live on," said Charlie.
Right from the beginning, Charlie knew he didn't want to be a typical everyday farmer. For one thing he knew he didn't have enough assets to begin that kind of endeavor. So, Charlie started looking at different ways to make use of the native land, turn it into a way of income. In 1987, after studying the market trends, Charlie decided he could make a living raising bison. Not a substantial income, but a living.
"I must say at this point in my interview, I raise bison, not buffalo. Buffalo are raised in Africa; bison are raised in America," said Charlie.
Charlie started out his bison herd with five heifers and one bull purchased at the Maxwell Game Reserve yearly auction, held in December. When he got them home he found he had two bulls instead of just one.
"When they are little you can't tell whether they are male or female," said Charlie.
The herd that roams the hills and grasses now in northern Jewell County for Charlie totals more than 49 head that are older than one year, with 20 plus calves younger than one year old. About 10 or 12 years ago, through bovine DNA testing done at K-State, it was found that bison with bovine don't gain as fast as a pure bison. Also through DNA, bison have been traced back to the original Yellowstone National Park bison herd that was started by Teddy Roosevelt, who left his trust of Yellowstone to the bison and the Lakota Sioux.
"It has taken time but now I do not have bovine DNA in any of my herd. I purchase my bulls from my friend who lives in Pine Ridge, S.D., a Lakota Sioux. I'm buying from the tribe itself which the herd is from the Teddy Roosevelt herd descent." Is there a chance of a white bison? "That is a possibility," said Charlie.
The bulls run with the cows year round. The bison have a rut season, just like deer, and typically breed in August to calve in May.
"Not for me. In 2014 I had a lot of June, July and August calves," said Charlie. "So far this year I have had fewer calves, but time will tell. Not sure how many have calved. It's hard to keep track of as the cow will stay between you and the calf or other cows and her calf. The other day I counted 21 head as they came through the gate."
One year, Charlie had an unusual 100 percent calving from his herd and now his goal is to have an 80 percent calving rate. He would estimate he is now two-thirds done for the 2015 season.
"Most years you will lose one or two calves. In 2014 I lost three calves and so far in 2015 I have lost two calves," said Charlie.
A bison bull is serviceable for 40 to 50 years. Cows will continue to calf for the upwards of 45 years. The older the cows get, they tend to skip a year of calving. In the wild, cows only have a calf every other year.
At the present time, Charlie has three breeding age bulls but one will be butchered. A bison herd always needs at least two bulls that can range in age from four, three and two years of age. It has been discovered that the older bull will work harder and you will have more bred cows if you have younger bulls among the herd. If the younger bull challenges the older bull and wins, the older bull leaves the herd. Most everything is two years of age before they breed. Charlie keeps his bulls to the age of 10. This is when they reach full size. But, around the age of 7 or 8 they start to get grumpy.
There are distinguishing things that have to be observed carefully to build a bison herd. You can't move outside animals into the herd. The females are dominant in the herd. When the bull calves are one year old the mother pushes the calf from the herd. If you get 20 to 30 animals in the herd they tend to split into separate groups. Charlie goes by the sign of the moon for moving his bison and weaning the calves.
"If I brought cows into my present herd no cow would bred, probably for two years or more, but once they have had a calf they become part of the present herd," said Charlie.
Grazing for the bison is about the same as the stocking rate of cattle per acre of grass. The bison go into dormancy during the winter months so they consume less and up until this year Charlie has supplemented with hay. This year Charlie just finished a 15 year plan to put the acreage of the farm back into native grass.
"My goal is to never have to feed hay to the bison. I move my bison every 21 days to help the grasses and with the implementing of these practices and all the rain we've had this year maybe this will be my year to not have to feed hay. Moving from one paddock to another also helps control the parasite cycles, which is a problem for the bison. Another way to help control the parasites is the eating of pumpkins," said Charlie.
Also fed to the bison on Charlie's farm are turnips, squash and watermelon but he shares that by far their favorite are pumpkins.
In 1988, the Kansas Buffalo Association was formed with Charlie serving on the founding board.
"The main reason the association was formed was to have a buffalo auction; now the auction held here in Kansas is the largest auction for buffalo in the world," said Charlie. "They are brought in from the Dakotas, Kentucky and Utah, with most of them being sold coming in from Kansas and Missouri."
The auction is held at Farmers and Ranchers Sale Barn in Salina for several reasons: It is centrally located in Kansas and is on two main highways, interstates 70 and 35; the facility is built to hold buffalo, with steel pens which will hold the older animals; and the owner, Mike Sample, agreed to hold the auction.
There are strict regulations to selling bison at the auction. All age of cows can be sold. No male over two years of age can be sold. All animals are sold by how old they are and weight ranging from six months of age to 300 to 450 pounds of weight.
"It doesn't take much fence to hold a bison in a pasture but you go to crowding one and steel is needed," said Charlie.
The biggest problem encountered at the auction is the help in the pens and the fact that the bigger the bison are the more space you must give them.
"People don't understand that bison are used to being in a quiet locale, and that is the way they like it. If you have ever been around bison, just a small noise and they will turn and move. When the cowboys working in the pens get to whooping and hollering, the bison will come at you to get away from the noise, and if you are in the way they will run over you," said Charlie.
Before each bison goes through the sale ring they are judged. The auctions held in Salina have ranged in numbers of 1,738 head sold to as low as 100 when they first started out. A lot of the bison sold go to feedlots.
"Some years I keep the calves, keep the yearlings. Feed is the deciding factor. I sell some privately to bison ranchers. Some of my stock is also sold for food consumption," said Charlie.
The secret to cooking bison to eat is cook slow, it is a dry, lean meat, and according to Charlie is it just as tender as beef to eat if it is cooked slow. The problem with processing bison is it takes seven or eight months to get it into a slaughter house to be processed.
Charlie said some of the men in the bison business have been involved for a long time and have very large herds. Just as cattle have their top breeders, so do the bison.
"I would say one of the top breeders of bison is Ray O. Smith who is the owner of a bison named 747, purchased from the original herd at Ft. Riley. Now there are more than 60 some head out there that are descendents of 747," said Charlie.
Now, I know everyone is thinking, if the bison have been in existence for that long why are there just 60 some descendents of 747. Remember, the cows don't bred every year. 747 has been taken out of service and his semen is being sold.
Some of the other factors Charlie shared that were very interesting. The first hit from the head of a buffalo is a warning hit. If the mother's tail goes up, she is mad. When in rut leave the female alone. A mother protecting a calf is very dangerous, but a female that is ovulating is very, very dangerous. Charlie's corral is made of large rubber tractor tires. As the bison hide develops it changes. The calves are born smooth, then turns cinnamon in color, then brown, and by the age of two or three have a tuft. The winter coat of a bison is more valuable.
The cost of a bull. Most are bought as a calf so there is not a fight for dominance. On the average, depending on the year some calves hit $5 a pound and some are as low as $1 a pound. The money realized from the sale of a bison hide varies. A big bull with a winter hide can bring in upwards of $2,000. A three year old hide is worth $100 to $200. The purchase of a bison head varies also, the skies the limit on these bulls.
"I know of one bull's head that sold for more than $20,000," said Charlie.
The third week of July, 2015, the Kansas Buffalo Association observed its 25th anniversary.
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Party picks Jacobs as new sheriff
It is almost official. Don Jacobs will be the new Jewell County Sheriff.
The Jewell County Republican Party meeting was held Aug. 24, and the committee members selected Don Jacobs to fill the sheriff's vacancy created by the resignation of Jonas McEntire. Following this meeting, the committee sent their recommendation to the governor.
In a letter dated Aug. 25 from the office of the Governor, and mailed to Jacobs, his appointment was confirmed as Jewell County Sheriff. The letter goes on to state Jacobs will receive a certificate of appointment and oath of office from the secretary of state's office within the next few weeks. At that time his oath of office should be completed, notarized and returned to the secretary of state as soon as possible. Once the secretary of state's office receives the notarized oath, Jacobs will be authorized to perform the official duties of his appointment.
Jacobs has served the past nine years with the Jewell County Sheriff's Department. He was hired by Sheriff Dave Fullerton as a part time deputy; then served 3 1/2 years as a full time deputy. The remainder of his tenure has been as undersheriff.
"I was given the undersheriff's position in September 2011 after Cameron Grabast had to give up the position because of illness," said Jacobs.
Jacobs and his family have lived in this area since 1994. He is originally from Jackson, Mich., coming to Jewell County from California after serving in the Marine Corps. He has four daughters, Mariah Jacobs, 22, Katie Jacobs, 20, Briana Hanson 20, and Kaylee 4. Don and wife, Tori, also have two grandchildren.
His hobbies include fishing, hunting and gardening, even though "not a lot of time for any of these," he said.
Jacobs has set a goal for his department. "I want the citizens of Jewell County to be able to come in the sheriff's office off the street and feel comfortable talking to and trusting any of the officers that happen to be on duty," said Don.
At the present time, the sheriff's department is searching for three more deputies for their department to join the two other full time officers and a part time officer now employed. Also employed by the department are four full time dispatchers and one part time dispatcher.
"All presently employed deputies and dispatchers will stay in place," said Jacobs.
County approves $12,460 for courthouse bat remediation
The Jewell County Board met Monday with commissioners Mark
Fleming, Steve Greene and Dwight Frost present. Carla Waugh, county
clerk, was also present.
Minutes of the Aug. 24 meeting were approved with the correction that the Alexander Motors bid for a new truck for emergency services was withdrawn because the vehicle was not available.
The commissioners conducted office head meeting. The following were present for the meeting: Chris Petet, custodian; Gail Bartley, noxious weed director, emergency preparedness director and 911 coordinator; Jenae Ryan, district extension agent; Travis Garst, solid waste director; Brenda Eakins, treasurer; Anna Standley, register of deeds.
Garst said the fuel pump on the backhoe had to be replaced. He took care of all of the recalls on the Dodge pickup.
Bartley said he plans to attend a conference on Sept. 16 in Junction City, and is still busy spraying.
Ryan said she has been visiting clients at home. The state fair is Sept. 11-20 and they will take the exhibits from Jewell County that qualified. The department has been working on year end 4-H reports.
Frost said he attended the multi-county meeting in Osborne County.
Greene attended the economic development meeting and the juvenile detention meeting. He also attended the multi-county meeting with Frost and Waugh.
Fleming attended the hospital board meeting and said they have a new building for the CT scanner.
Petet, custodian, discussed quotes for waterproofing and bat remediation. The board approved the critter control quote for bat remediation and removal for a total of $12,460. The commissioners also approved the agreement with Mid-Continental Restoration for the below grade waterproofing for a total of $3,371.
Bartley reported that September is National Emergency Preparedness Month.
Don Jacobs, sheriff, said Stuart Vance withdrew his resignation. Jacobs requested permission to hire Jacob Millias, who lives in Courtland. Jacobs also said he hired Kim Ost as his undersheriff. Ost's law enforcement certification is current, so he won't be required to go to KLETC. The board approved of hiring Millias.
Stuart Vance, deputy, had quotes for radios and speaker microphone from Pierce Electronics, Edge Tech Wireless, and Two-Way Depot. Commissioners approved the bid from Pierce Electronics for seven radios and speaker microphones for $4,459.
Jenny Russell, Jewell County Economic Development, had a presentation reviewing Jewell County's current property tax exemption program and also a presentation on a possible neighborhood revitalization program. Others attending the presentation were Jim and Lannin Zoltenko, Josh Harwell, Brenda Eakins, Trevor Elkins, Caleb Mahin and Garrett Russell.
Jim Stone said coffee shop talk is the sheriff deputies should have to sign a contract to repay for their training if they leave Jewell County. The county already has such a policy in place.
Jewell Gelbvieh breeder recognized
Roger and Gilly Reiter, Gilly's Gelbvieh, Jewell, was recently
recognized by the American Gelbvieh Association (AGA) as the owners
of 22 Gelbvieh cows exhibiting the consistent maternal efficiency
typical of "The Continental Breed of Choice." The AGA
has designated these outstanding beef females as dams of merit
and dams of distinction.
Maternal productivity plays a major role in profitable beef production, as nearly 60 percent of the cost of producing a pound of beef can be attributed to the cow herd. Considerable economic research has demonstrated that fertility and calving ease followed by milk, growth, and carcass cutability have the biggest influence on profit in a retained ownership (conception to carcass) system.
Commercial cattlemen agree that Gelbvieh have strong maternal attributes with the added benefits of fast growth and carcass cutability. Given the increased emphasis on efficient beef production, the Gelbvieh breed is in an excellent position to increase its influence on the beef industry.
The title of dam of merit recognizes cows that meet strict selection criteria including early puberty and conception, regular calving intervals, and above average weaning weights on at least three calves. Of the 38,304 active cows in the Gelbvieh breed, only 5.2 percent qualify for dam of merit. The dam of distinction honor recognizes cows that meet the same high standards for superior, long term productivity with at least eight calves. Just one percent of all active Gelbvieh cows qualify for this elite group.
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