By Matt Reese
In January, Mark Gardiner talked about genetics and a forward-look at the cattle industry at the Ohio Cattlemen’s Annual Meeting. He outlined the challenges and opportunities in the cattle business from his perspective at Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kan.
“Our ranch in Kansas would be very similar to many ranches around the United States. My family migrated to Kansas in 1885 and homesteaded there. I’m the fourth generation and my sons represent the fifth generation. It is a family-run operation. We were commercial cattlemen forever and then we started the genetics business back in the 70s and our first production sale of Angus genetics was in April of 1980. We’re beef cattle people first, but our main business is Angus genetics at Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kan.,” Gardiner said. “Technology and information is available to all of us and we have used data-based selection systems to select multi-trait specialists for the traits of merit since 1980. We’ve been all AI without the use of cleanup bulls since 1964, but we didn’t make progress until we starting sorting the database that became available in 1980 for cattle that calve easily, grow efficiently, and grow quickly so they can replicate the process in a range environment, and ultimately provide a great tasting protein for the consumers of the world.”
The opportunities for adding value to beef are great, but the fine folks of Kansas are no strangers to adversity, either, and Gardiner also outlined the tough history of ranching in the west for his family. Most recently, the family had to overcome the disaster that decimated their 45,000-acre Kansas ranch in March of 2017. The Starbuck Wildfire blackened the ground from distant horizon to distant horizon.
“There are wildfires every year. There were a set of circumstances that came together: an ice storm in late January that weakened some power lines, then no rain from that time until March 6 when there were 80-mile-per-hour winds that kept changing direction and slapped those lines together and sparked them. Our county is right at 600,000 acres and essentially 500,000 acres of that burned,” Gardiner said. “There were 7 people that died in the fire, including one truck driver in our community. There were 10,000 head of cattle in our county that perished and we lost 600 pregnant females. We lost 270 miles of fence. I lost my house and there were about 30 houses in the community that burned — utter devastation. Though, it was not about what we lost. It is about what we gained.”
What was so tragic at the time has turned into incredible opportunities since the Starbuck Fire in March of 2017. Groups from around the country brought supplies, hay, donations, and labor to help ranches in the area recover.
“I would suggest that this was the greatest blessing in my life. We think about how fortunate we were. American agriculture and the American people are the finest people I’ve ever met. The people who came to help were vital to our survival with the labor people gave, the supplies they sent and the money they provided,” Gardiner said. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. We are so grateful and it is so humbling that so many people cared. People are still helping our community and we wouldn’t be there without those who helped.”
Gardiner can now look back and clearly see how much good came from that terrible fire.
“We have a sea of grass with a sandy loam soil. It was too high a price to pay, but the fire removed some brush that needed to be removed. The land has recovered very well because, since April of 2017, we have received almost double our normal precipitation,” Gardiner said. “I used to joke that a lot of our gates were tighter than our fences. A lot of the fences were from the 1880s. Every fence in the county was burnt up and so now we have some of the best fences I’ve ever seen because of so many people’s generosity and efforts, labor and supplies.”
The ranch’s work with genetics has continued to evolve and Gardiner Angus Ranch is in a better place today than before the terrible losses in 2017.
“You often hear that God doesn’t give you more than you can handle — He must think we can handle so much,” Gardiner said. “Now we’re working hard to live up to that.”