Interviewing Randall Debler, Cattlemen's Beef Board member, 'firing' up his pastures

Randall Debler was having a busy week, more than usual. He lives in the Kansas Flint Hills, Running Rock Hill Ranch with his wife, Erin and their three children.

It's near Alma, about an hour-and-a-half west of Kansas City and that region has a strange spring time rite.

They set fire to their pastures.

On purpose.

Unlike the recent wildfires that raged through the Oklahoma Panhandle and Southwestern Kansas doing enormous damage, these are carefully controlled 'burns' that help keep the Tall Grass Prairie what it is; one of the great natural grass regions of the world.

"We do it every spring," he explained.

"It gets rid of dead grass and invasive species. We usually wait for the shrubs to start budding but it was drier this year so the fires would have been harder to manage.

We waited until we had a rain, so we were a little later this year."

Talking about the ranch, he said, "We have about 5,000 acres," he said.

"My wife and I rented the house that we live in after we graduated from Kansas State from a family that had ranched here since the late 1870's. We've lived in the original house since 2002. We bought into the ranch in 2007." Randall works the ranch full-time.

Erin keeps the books and works at a local bank.

Debler grew up on a farm and that's where he wanted to be after graduating.

"The family farm that I grew up on was large enough to teach responsibility and hard work, but not large enough to provide a full- time living," Debler said. He used sweat equity to help work his way into an existing ranch owned by Paul and Nancy Miller. They had no family members who wanted to take it over so the Millers converted the farm into a corporation and the Deblers are gradually buying shares. It saves them the prohibitive expense of coming up with a large down payment needed to buy the place at once.

Talking about the financial hurdles to starting a cattle ranch of that size, he said, "Erin and I are buying in a few shares a little at a time. The amount of capital to get started at that size is almost impossible to come by out of college."

They're living in the original house, a place that started as a small, one room log cabin that's been expanded several times.

From an estimated 100+ square feet, it's now 1,600 square feet, enough for Randall, Erin and their children; nine-year-old Dalton; Jacob, who is six; and Anna, their two-year-old daughter. Together, they manage a 350-head commercial fall and spring cow-calf operation with 3,000 acres of native grasses and 1,700 acres of improved grasses and alfalfa.

Talking about his involvement in the Cattlemen's Beef Board (CBB), he said, "I felt the need to participate in state and national affairs.

If I wanted a strong and viable business to turn over to my children, I had to do my part."

He started with the Kansas Farm Bureau where he served on the Beef Advisory Board.

He's a graduate of the Kansas Agriculture and Rural Leadership program and has held several leadership positions with the Wabaunsee County Farm Bureau, Kansas Farm Bureau, and Kansas Livestock Association. He was nominated for the Cattlemen's Beef Board last year and just completed his orientation at the end of March.

"I was somewhat familiar with how the CBB worked," he said, "but I learned a lot more about how they operate and how they closely track the dollars they spend.

I was impressed by the quality of the people I met."

Debler was assigned to the Consumer Trust Committee. "We look at how best to build their trust, how to communicate the facts about beef and its role in a healthy diet," he said.