Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Fell In To A....

When it comes to jobs at the ranch, I'm generally not too picky. After dwelling in an office most of the day, I'm thankful for anything that doesn't involve heels.

There is however, one job that will make me immediately want to find somewhere else to be: Burning.

I really was never aware of my fear of fire until I went to my first burn with Mr. Optimistic seven years ago. I got clotheslined by an overzealous, hose-wielding college boy while holding a drip torch. Both I and my pride were singed.

After marrying the Flint Hills however, disappearing to the mall during burning season seems a little wrong. So I've learned to adjust, adapt, and of course take pictures.

If you are a stray to the area like me, you may wonder why this is done. For one, good stewards of the land have a saying to "take half and leave half." In other words, when grazing a pasture, one would like to graze until half the grass production for that year is used, and then move the cows to another pasture. What is left behind, though, is lots and lots of mature, dead grass. When pastures are burned at the right time, it gives new nutrient-rich and efficient grass the opportunity to grow. And become the most incredibly beautiful green color imaginable.

Also, burning helps control invasive plant species like cedar trees and different types of brush that can overrun grazing land. Want to get Mr. Optimistic ruffled? Tell him you love cedar trees. Our neighbors love them, and we don't speak to them anymore.

There are many other reasons why rangeland burning is important for the Flint Hills, even including a cow's picky palette. Apparently to her, the grass is greener (and more delectable) on the other side of the hill. Cows will sometimes return to their favorite spot too often, shortening the grass and allowing invasive plants to take hold. I have a similar problem with McDonald's french fries, so I'm not judging.

In short, Mr. Optimistic is not a pyro, but a conservationist seeking to find the best way to efficiently manage and maintain the resources that we have. By keeping our pastures viable, we are able to efficiently feed cattle and a growing human population without increasing the land needed for agriculture. Which I'm sure makes all of our cedar tree loving neighbors very happy.


  1. Great pictures! Living in the Western part of KS, I never understood burning til I went to K-State, but I miss seeing it.

  2. Welcome back. I love watching the Flint Hills burn, but haven't had to do it myself. So I'll take your word. Those hills always look like Ireland when the grass grows back.