Who am I?

I'm Debbie Lyons-Blythe. I am a cattle rancher in central Kansas, in the heart of the Flint Hills. My husband and I both grew up raising cattle. It is an excellent way of life, not just a way to make a living!

We have been married for more than 29 years, and have five kids: Meghan, age 27; Allie, age 25; Trent, age 24; and Tyler and Eric, age 22 (yes, they are twins!).

We have about 250 mama cows raising calves, and 350 heifers (cows that haven't had a calf yet). We sell bulls and heifers and sometimes feed out our steers at a feedyard. But usually our product is the genetics that other ranchers use to produce beef.

My job is to raise the cattle and kids. My husband works in town and helps on the ranch in the evenings and weekends. We love our ranch in Kansas. It is a beautiful place to raise cattle and a family.

I post to this blog to share with people around the world what life is like in rural Kansas and how my family works every day to ensure a safe, nutritious supply of beef to consumers.

I am also on social media as DebbieLB most places. Look for me:

Why do ranchers burn their pastures? Five beneficial reasons to put up with the smoke

Less than 4% of the original Tallgrass Prairie remains in America and most of that is in the Flint Hills of Kansas. The prairie is comprised of native grasses--not planted by any human. Even though it was designed by Nature, it is mankind's responsibility to help maintain the prairie. 

"If we want it to be here for the next generation, and the next generation, then we gotta do what Mother Nature did before we came here, and we've got to burn it quite often to keep the grassland a grassland."  --Mike Holder, Flint Hills Extension District. Mike is one of my heroes--an old cowboy who loves the prairie and isn't afraid to fight for it!

In late March and April, the skies in Kansas are often filled with smoke and even metropolitan areas may see the haze of smoke and smell the fires. Often, people with breathing problems have even more trouble with the smoke. So, why do ranchers set their grass on fire? Here are the top five reasons my family sets controlled fires on our prairie grass:

5.  To encourage wildlife population -- what's good for the livestock, is good for wildlife!
"Fire is critical to prairie chickens and other grassland birds, because it keeps those trees out of the prairie. If you do not burn, you end up getting woody encroachment out into those grasslands and what that does is provide habitat ...for predators that prey upon prairie chickens and other grassland birds."  Jim Pittman, Ks Dept of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

4.  Weed control -- Kill woody shrubs and trees. Some people may claim that this is the #1 reason to burn, and frankly, all five reasons are all very closely tied together.  Back when the Indians and buffalo roamed free on the Kansas prairie, lightning storms lit fires that raged over thousands of acres in one big bonfire.  Once the grass began to regrow, the buffalo came to the fresh, tender grass.  The inhabitants also noticed that fire kept killing back the woody weeds and that kept trees from invading the native pristine prairie. So the Indians began lighting the first controlled burns and history was made!   In addition to controlling weeds, burning the grass promotes diversity in the grassland. The beauty of the native prairie is that it isn't comprised of only one plant. Many different grasses and forbs combine to make a healthy, sustainable grassland.   "The ranchers in eastern Kansas are really kind of stewards of one of the last pieces of the most important ecosystem in north America,"   Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7.

3.  Promote better utilization of grasses by livestock.  Cattle like to eat where it is the easiest to get to the grass, and as they eat, fresh tender grass regrows.  There may be luscious, nutritious grass on the next hillside, but often the cattle stay where they are content. So they don't eat down the other hillside and the grass grows tall and lank there. It doesn't taste as good to them, and they ignore it.  So we burn off the lank, old grass to encourage fresh, tender and more nutritious grass to grow on that hill as well, luring the cattle there. That is better for the land, not just because there is more to eat, but also it helps control erosion and compaction from cattle walking all over the same land.

2. Better weight gain on livestock with fresh, green, more nutritious grass.  The Kansas Flint Hills is mostly Cow Country! Yes, there is plenty of crop ground, too. But for the most part, the hillsides and tops are too rocky to farm. So we manage the grass for cattle to use it.  Much of this land isn't fit to grow crops, so we bring nearly a million head of cattle here for a few months in the summer to eat the grass and turn it into something we humans can consume.  I can't eat grass--but cattle can convert it to protein.  It has been proven that calves grow better on new, fresh grass that doesn't have the old dead grass it must grow through.

1.  Use less chemicals.  Mother Nature is amazing and constantly changing. One of the biggest reasons we have lost 96% of the native prairie is because it was either good enough land to grow crops, or it has become infested with trees.  Cattle don't eat trees and when the eventual infestation of Eastern Redcedar engulfs a part of the prairie, we have lost use of the land as well as the positive impacts of deep-rooted, carbon-sequestering native plants. Without fire to control the woody invasion, we will have to turn to chemicals for widespread control.  That not only increases expense, but also labor and safety. 

A few years ago, farmers and ranchers participated in a program to voluntarily choose when to burn pastures, based on wind patterns, meteorological data and amount of land to burn. This video explains much about the science of burning pastures, and the science of ozone and what we as caretakers of the land do to manage the fire and choose when to burn. And if you watch the whole video, you may see me a few times--along with many of my grassland management mentors!! (Be sure to leave a comment if you watch it all and if you saw me!)

"Fire is the only way to maintain it. It's too important an ecological asset to lose..." Brian Obermeyer, The Nature Conservancy

Through the years, I have written lots of blog posts about the pasture fires that farmers and ranchers set in April in Kansas. Here is a compilation:

A baby is born!

Often the first sign of a cow in labor is her raised tail. She will look for a place to be alone. The membranes may appear as a water "balloon" that will burst and you can then see the calf's front feet.
I usually don't get to see calves actually born. We have nearly 300 calves on our ranch each year, but when I see a cow in labor, I leave her alone to have her calf and I return in about 30 minutes to see a live calf. She will be licking it and teaching it to nurse. So when a heifer was in labor yesterday in the sunshine, I decided to get my camera and sit and watch. From the point of when the calf's feet are showing, to delivery, it should only be about 30 minutes.

A heifer should calve within 30 minutes of the feet being presented. I check to make sure the calf is presented correctly by how the feet look. If they're upside down, the calf is backward and we need to help her deliver.

Uh-oh. She seems me! Cattle like to be alone and protected when they calve. Soon she is too busy pushing to worry about me. I hid behind the feed bunk!

You can see the calf's nose now. The front feet should come first, with the nose and head next.

Soon the head is pushed out with the calf's knees (or elbows?!). The membranes are still around the calf.

Very quickly the cow pushes the calf out. The shoulders can be a difficult part. But this time, the calf's shoulders slide right out.

The cow is really concentrating and I can sneak closer.

She has the calf pushed out to his rib cage, and he tries to breathe, but he can't yet because his rib cage is still compressed. His tongue is sticking out reaching for a breath!

As his rib cage is pushed out, he stretches out to take a breath. The mama cow is still focused on her contractions.

The hips can also be a point of difficulty. If the cow's pelvis is shaped wrong, or if the calf is very large, it may become "hiplocked." As the calf is born, it rotates slightly to free the hips.

Unfortunately as the calf rotates, this time his head becomes rotated and his body pushes it around. If he doesn't straighten out quickly, he may suffocate!

The heifer finishes pushing the calf out. She must now stand up soon and begin licking the calf to get him to breathe immediately.

Another successful delivery! Congratulations, it's a boy!

Cooking Prime Rib--tips from a rancher!

Who better to ask than a rancher how to cook the perfect prime rib? Many people are overwhelmed by a prime rib roast and it is a relatively expensive cut of meat. So you don't want to screw it up--but it is really pretty easy!

My "Boys of Fall"

I couldn't resist sharing this post from a number of years ago. My boys have now all graduated from our small town high school and the oldest has even graduated from college. But their time on the 8-man football field in our little town surrounded by community members cheering them on has grounded them and tied them to our little community.  So even though this was a few years ago, this post still gets me....The Boys of Fall!

Small town sports are like no other! Last week was our first football game of the year for our small town high school. I have three boys in high school and they all play football. My oldest boy is a junior and the other two are twins who are freshmen.

I have to admit, I am not a great football mom. I'm a big chicken! I can barely sit on the stands and watch my boys get tackled without yelling, "Get off him!" But I control myself and when they do get an especially rough hit and take an extra few seconds to get up, I make myself stay on the stands and not run to the field to ask, "Are you okay, honey?" I've been told that is not helpful.

Let's talk!

Thank you for reading! If you like this post, I would appreciate any comments and shares. You can see a bit more about me and my family here, and connect with me on facebook and twitter! Please do! Connecting is the WHOLE POINT of blogging! I'd love to hear from you.