Fire on the Prairie

Fire on the Prairie. It began with the Indians, perhaps when lightning struck the prairie and caused the fresh new grass to attract buffalo to their land. Later, ranchers in the Flint Hills adopted this practice into what is now an annual tradition. Between March 15 and April 15, depending on seasonal weather and grass growth, ranchers will light up the prairie with their spring pasture burning, which marks the beginning of the grazing season.

In the old days, ranchers rode their horses through the pastures and dragged burning tires or kerosene-soaked gunny sacks behind them to start the fires. Some merely dropped wooden matches to the grass as they rode over the pastures. Today, most ranchers drag fire sticks behind four-wheelers to cover the many miles of undulating prairie.

The annual pasture burning is quite a sight to behold with thousands of acres being burnt at one time. The purpose is to eliminate the dead grass and make way for the new by getting a head start on weeds. With the help of spring rains, the charcoaled land will bring forth tender green shoots, rich in minerals. It is said that cattle feeding on this grass will gain 30 to 40 pounds more than they do on an unburned pasture.