The W.J. Hett Ranch, LLC, has existed for more than 60 years, ever since Walter and Jackie Hett were married in 1946. When Walter died in 1998, Jackie and their son, Steve, kept the ranch going. They worked side by side to manage the 300-head herd.
“I couldn’t have done it without Steve,” Jackie Hett said.
In recent years, Steve had several health problems that limit his ability to do ranch work.
Hett invited her grandson, Jeff Ensey and his wife, Laura, to join them in running the ranch. They arrived from Colorado in October 2009. Ensey also is the grandson of T.C. and Lila Ensey of Marion.
He grew up in Valley Center and spent a lot of time at the Hett ranch, camping with his family and working cattle. He said he had an interest in someday becoming involved in the ranch, but he thought it might be 20 years or more into the future.
Now, at 38, that dream has come true. Hett said her grandson’s able management gave her free time to pursue personal interests. She knows the cattle are in good hands. And when she feels like it, she can go out and help feed the cattle.
Laura Ensey gets involved from time to time.
“She has helped me pull a couple of calves, one in the middle of the night,” Jeff Ensey said.
She also sometimes helps process weaned calves.
The ranch is located in the Flint Hills southeast of Marion. It consists of about 2,000 acres of grass in three separate tracts and a couple of rented quarters of grass.
This year the herd included 166 spring-calving and 115 fall-calving black and black-whiteface cows. Hett said splitting the herd into two calving seasons required fewer bulls.
Some of the fall-bred cows were leased to the BJ Ranch at Manhattan, where they underwent embryo transplants. This involved transferring fertilized eggs from superior donor cows to the Hett cows. Calves produced through embryo transplants sell for a premium price.
Bulls used on the ranch have been purchased from Harms Plainview Ranch at Lincolnville, John Slocombe at Manhattan, and Hinkston Ranch at Strong City.
The cows graze on grass year-round and are supplemented with home-raised brome or prairie hay, and protein purchased from the local co-op in winter. They also have unlimited access to mineral and salt.
Weaned calves are usually retained and sold as feeder calves but under certain conditions are sold directly off the cows. Heifers (females) usually are kept longer than steers. Some are added to the herd as replacements for culled cows, and some are sold as feeders.
Fall calves are weaned in the spring and put on grass to sell in mid-summer. Spring calves are weaned in late summer before being sold in December.
Prices for feeder calves are at record highs as worldwide demand outpaces supply.
“The high price counteracts high feed, fuel, and fertilizer prices and helps us stay afloat,” Ensey said.
Hett pays her grandson a salary and occasionally gives him a heifer as a bonus. He owns 160 acres of grass and has seven head. Jeff and Laura Ensey three miles from his grandmother. They are expecting their first child in March. Laura Ensey works at Emprise Bank in Hillsboro.
“The ranch is going super well with super good help,” Hett said.
Like other ranchers, she remains cautious about the price trend in beef. Prices can go up, but they also can come down, she said.