On the Quarter Circle S
Photo Essay by Jody Pfannenstiel
Located midway between the Saline and Solomon rivers in northwest Kansas, not far off Highway 18, is John and Cynthia Steeples’ Quarter Circle S Ranch. No fancy signs or gates, just a mailbox labeled Steeples. The family ranch was homesteaded in 1878. Granddad Chester F.D. Steeples and sons Duane and Hillon formed a partnership in 1956. John Steeples and wife Cynthia (Craig) graduated Kansas State University, were married in 1977 and returned home. They bought into the partnership in 1978. Then, in 1985, they started buying out John’s uncle Hillon. In 1998 they bought his dad Duane out. John said, “Seems like we’ve been paying a retirement plan for someone ever since we came back!”
Managing more cows and farming a little less than the three original partners keeps them busy. They started with a Hereford base and “were out to change the world” when returning home. Later, Simmental influence was added. Angus bulls had been used on the heifers and they really liked the baldy calves,“but I guess we couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I was kind of a slow learner”, Steeples says, adding, “We finally realized big cows don’t make money!”
Enter Ohlde Cattle Company. Steeples started buying bulls from Tim and Trudy Ohlde 14 years ago and scaling down cow size. The frame has gone down and the ability for a cow to survive on forage has improved. The cows spend the winter grazing milo stalks with little or no supplement. Being particular about the udders on cows, great changes have been made with cow and bull selection.
The only cake ever fed to cows is to coax them around a little. Heifer calves are weaned off the cow and go directly onto winter barley to graze. With the drought last winter, the cows got more cane hay and barley hay than in previous years, but no grain or supplements. “A good mineral program really makes a difference, and we are diligent about making it available.” according to Steeples.
Cows are treated like cows from the weaning process on up. Will you have fall-out? Sure, but why not eliminate the free loaders from the start? They already know how to graze and manage on the range – it’s all they ever knew. No bunk scooping or feed truck, tractor, silage, grain or distillers. “Feed salesmen don’t like me very much! We’re practically going broke, not having free jackets and caps to wear. We gotta buy our own,” Steeples jokes.
On the working side of things, they still find a need for horses. A side-by-side is used to check calving cows but there is not a replacement for a horse when there is a problem. All the heifers are calved out on grass and there are times one needs to be brought in to be helped. There are fewer calf health problems since getting them out of the lots.
All of this would not be possible without good help. Steeples feels fortunate he was able to hire Trever Gire. Trever’s horse training and feedlot and doctoring experience has been a very valuable asset to the operation. His two Border Collie dogs are also a big help.
Speaking of help, the Steeples have a great network of friends in the area that are real handy. Come branding day, people come from up to 90 miles away to help. They also come to enjoy Cynthia’s cooking! Being one of the few in this area that still rope and drag calves to the fire, branding day is a big event.
John and Cynthia have two adult children. Summer is married to Brad Yoder and they live close to Wichita, KS. Their son, Josey, is married to Cortney (Reimer) and they live in Hastings MN. Both kids have ag-related careers and all four are K-State graduates.
Many improvements have been made over the years such as installing tire tanks and fence to distribute grazing. A construction project is nearly always in the works – building a catch pen or grass trap somewhere to make handling a little easier. The grass trap concept was discovered by accident on a place where cattle had to be moved through two small pastures to get to the catch pen. Steeples’ noticed when cattle were put through the first gate they thought they were getting away – or going to new grass. “It’s kind of a necking down effect and I’m sure someone has written about it or promoted it. Anyway, it works!”
In the winter or when time gets slack, (whatever that is), John works with leather. It is his release, going to the leather shop and not really thinking about the ranch work. John has built about 13 saddles and many chinks and chaps. He also makes a large variety of holsters, and is always trying to design a better one.
John, 64 and Cynthia 63 don’t have any real plans for retirement. As long as Trever can help manage the place, they’re in it for a while longer and will keep on Makin’ Cows.