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The Flint Hills of Kansas have produced great cattle and a great storyteller

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Edwin Olson
A 10,000 acre Flint Hills ranch can handle as many cattle as a million acres in Nevada's high desert.

The Flint Hills are a favorite of many for their unique beauty. But Jim Hoy can tell you that, for ranchers, the real beauty is what the grass can do for cattle.

Jim Hoy is a professor emeritus of English at Emporia State, and has always called that area home. His latest book, "My Flint Hills: Observations and Reminiscences from America's Last Tallgrass Prairie," was named the winner of the 2021 Byron Caldwell Smith Book Award.

He says that, when it comes to raising cattle, the area is the best in the world for summer grazing.

"Winter time grass here doesn't have much food value in it . . . but boy, I'll tell you, when spring comes and that grass comes on, it's just amazing."

It's that grass that had Texas ranchers sending their cattle north. Hoy recalls when he was young almost all the summer cattle in the Flint Hills came from the Lone Star State.

"Today they come from as far away as Florida, Kentucky," explains Hoy. "A lot of them still from Texas, from old Mexico, Colorado, New Mexico, all over the place."

The key to its value comes from not only the grass, but the limestone present in the Flint Hills. That combination consistently allows cattle to gain two and a half to four pounds of weight per day eating the grass, something Hoy says can't be done on any other grazing lands.

Hoy recalls stories of days when horse and mule thievery was a scourge and the consequences severe for those who were caught. He also points to the time when all eyes were on Kansas after the plane crash in the hills that killed legendary Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.

For the Hoys, their time on the prairie began when his great-grandparents bought 80 acres of the hills in 1877. That land remains in the family today with each generation adding to the current total of 700 acres.

That accomplishment isn't lost on Jim Hoy. "We've got deep roots in the Flint Hills and I really appreciate that."

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