Unconventional ranching on protected prairie is how Josh and Gwen Hoy describe what they do on Flying W Ranch, a bison and beef cattle ranch on the tallgrass prairie of the Kansas Flint Hills.
Their peers call them visionaries for how they ranch in sync with nature, thanks to innovative conservation practices.
Josh and Gwen brought their own deep agricultural roots to create a productive and sustainable business on 7,000 acres. The Hoys take pleasure in understanding how livestock and wildlife can flourish while improving soil health and water quality. They are passing their intense awareness and appreciation of the land to their daughter, Josie.
After removing miles of fence within their ranch, they adopted an “instinctive migratory” grazing method for their livestock. It brings grass and forbs back to damaged areas, and protects riparian areas. In addition to grazing techniques, they control woody and invasive plants by patch burning and mechanical removal, instead of herbicides.
An Audubon Bird Friendly Ranch label may soon appear on the Hoy’s beef to inform consumers that grazing practices were used that promote grassland stewardship.
With conservation easements on all land they own or manage, the Hoys’ impact extends beyond their ranch gate. Collaboration with neighbors has put 4,000 contiguous acres of formerly-farmed ground in the Coyne Creek watershed back into native prairie or managed pasture.
Their advocacy has included holding unique events at the ranch. To promote the ecological benefits of controlled burns they’ve hosted a meal, live music and wagon rides before guests watch an evening prairie burn. The Kansas City Symphony has performed on their ranch at sundown to heighten appreciation of the tallgrass prairie.
Welcoming guests to the ranch is nothing new for the Hoys. For years they’ve welcomed guests to experience cowboy culture at the ranch. An authentic 1880s chuck wagon and a professional kitchen offers guests everything from rustic fare to gourmet dining. This ‘guest ranching’ agritourism business has allowed them to reduce debt, acquire land, educate the public, and invest in conservation. With the COVID-19 public health crisis forcing them to stop hosting guests, they’ll refocus their efforts with more marketing of their sustainably-raised, grass-fed beef.
Resilience is the real story of Flying W Ranch.
Josh founded the ranch with his cousin Warren Kruse in 1996. Tragedy struck in 2004 when Warren and his mother (Josh’s aunt) were killed in a plane crash. Hardship followed, as the unexpected loss set back many of the projects they were working on. The conservation easements that were placed on the property are the result of many years of effort and a testament to Warren’s legacy and vision.
Late last year a wildfire spurred by high winds burned the Hoy’s home and business records. Starting over after such a loss once again felt daunting. However, they have preserved and are using conservation principles while building their new house.
Just as the tallgrass prairie has the natural resiliency to come back after a controlled burn, it’s clear that whatever comes their way, this family is committed to living their conservation ethic.