Most of the ash has blown away from the scorched land on Greg Goodnight’s ranch, leaving behind red and yellow dirt, blackened brush and rocks.
The only thing thriving is the yucca plant, a plant so hardy that American Indians used its fiber for sewing and making rope. The scene at the ranch is more desert than prairie.
The only patches of green are from wheat fields, the fields that saved all of Goodnight’s cattle.
Even though he thinks he may be one of the few – if not the only – ranchers in the area who didn’t lose any cattle, losing 14,500 of his 14,800 acres of grassland to the flames will mean financial losses for years to come.
It also meant that on Monday, Goodnight rounded up his 294 cattle and sent them to Dodge City to be sold.
“It’s quite a devastation,” Goodnight said. “Selling the cattle early, they won’t bring near what I’d hoped they would in the time they’d grown on up to 800 pounds. I sold them anywhere from they’re probably 100 pounds light, at least, from what they’d normally be.”
Goodnight had planned to move his cattle off of wheat and to grass by March 15, a requirement of some government programs. But with no grass left and no fences to keep the cattle contained, he had no choice but to sell, he said.
He expects the cattle to sell for $120 to $150 less per head.
By May, he would normally start putting 1,000 to 1,500 calves on his grassland.
“I can’t do that now,” Goodnight said. “It’s all going to depend on how fast the grass comes back and how quick we can get the fences in.”
It will be at least four or five months before he will know whether cattle graze on the grass.
While he normally might plan for 10 acres of grass per head on a difficult year, this year he thinks it would be better to have up to 20 acres per head of cattle until the land recovers.
On Goodnight’s ranch – now bereft of cattle – volunteers and crews are hard at work tearing down burned fence posts and putting up fresh fences. Walking across a field that once held native grass, Goodnight looked for signs of green coming up through the dirt.
Despite the difficulties, Goodnight says he is blessed.
“I didn’t lose any cattle; I’ve got something to sell,” Goodnight said. “As far as it is going to be a big deal for us, it’s a bigger deal for guys that lost all their cattle. They lost the same things I lost, all their grass on their ranch and all their fences, but they lost all their cattle, they totally lost their livelihood.”