It was a sharp idea.
Red Brand wire extended an open invitation to FFA chapters to help build fence for Oklahoma and Kansas ranchers burned out earlier this year. FFA members would build fence, Red Brand would donate to the chapter, and ranchers would end up with new fence.
The need is great.
According to the Oklahoma Forest Services, the Anderson Creek Fire burned nearly 400,000 acres of land across Kansas and Oklahoma just before Easter of this year and although the area was sparsely populated, many ranchers lost livestock, buildings and miles of fences.
Now as the summer grazing season draws near, ranchers are scrambling to secure fence lines in order to turn cattle out on summer pastures.
“Our biggest losses were approximately 7,500 acres of grass and many miles of fence,” said Patty Maze, a rancher located near Medicine Lodge, Kans. “We didn’t lose any buildings or cattle. One of the ranches we lease burned off before we could get there to move the cattle, but by the grace of God, they rode out the fire and all were saved. Unfortunately, several of our friends and neighbors had big livestock losses. Anything we lost can either be rebuilt or will grow back.”
Maze said the ranch she runs alongside her husband Allan will need approximately 100 miles of fence repaired or rebuilt.
“Building a new fence can cost around $10,000 per mile for a five-strand barbed wire fence and posts every ten feet,” said Dain Rakestraw, Red Brand marketing manager. “Only 30 percent of those costs are the supplies; the rest is in hiring the fence installer to build, which is very labor intensive and expensive.”
Red Brand is a popular agricultural fencing product company that just introduced a wildfire relief program to assist those ranchers affected by the Anderson Creek Fire.
“We recently launched the Red Brand Wildfire Relief Program, which mobilizes volunteers to help rebuild fences,” said Rakestraw. “We have partnered with local FFA chapters to get volunteer FFA students involved in the manual labor part of the fence building. In return for their help, Red Brand will donate $1,000 to the FFA chapter.”
According to the Red Brand website, “In addition to the free installation services provided by teams of FFA volunteers, consumers and contractors can take advantage of various rebate programs available at participating dealers. These are: Home Grown, Red Brand’s Certified Fence Installer program, and NTRA Membership. These programs will provide a cost savings on qualifying fence products. More information about these programs can be found at RedBrand.com.”
Red Brand is a long-standing supporter of the FFA program that dates back 73 years. In 2016, Red Brand will donate nearly $500,000 to support the organization. With a strong support for this youth in agriculture program, teaming up with FFA chapters was a natural step in helping to assist ranchers impacted by the fire.
“We have three FFA chapters who have gotten involved so far, and we are working to spread the word to help mobilize more FFA members to get involved in the relief efforts,” said Rakestraw. “Whether it’s tearing down fence or building new fence, any help these FFA members can offer saves these ranchers a lot of time and money. We plan to run this program through the summer or even into next year as needed.”
At the end of April, the Chaparral and Inman FFA chapters partnered together to deliver more than 500 fence posts to drop-off locations in Kansas.
“We visited local electrical companies and asked them if they would be willing to donate old telephone poles to help the victims of the fire,” said Chandler Robinson, a senior Chaparral FFA member. “We teamed up with Inman FFA members and took a day off of school to cut poles up, load them onto semis and trailers and deliver them to the drop-off point.”
Aaron Sobba, Chaparral FFA advisor, said there were nearly 40 FFA members and volunteer adults who helped with the project.
“We found this to be a great way to give back to the local ranchers in our community,” said Sobba. “When we pitched this idea to the kids in our chapters, they were more than willing to take on the project. We also appreciate the help from local volunteers who offered the use of their semi and trailer, trucks, trailers and chainsaws.”
“Everyone pitched in throughout this entire process, and it was a great feeling to help out people in need,” added Robinson.
When the Smith Center FFA chapter reached out to the Maze family, the extra help in rebuilding their lost fences was an unexpected surprise. Their daughter is friends with Monica Wagner, the Smith Center FFA advisor, and Wagner offered to bring her chapter to the ranch to help tear down or rebuild some fence.
“Smith Center FFA tore out nearly five miles of fence while they were here at three separate locations,” said Maze. “They showed up to work and did an amazing job. They brought three Bobcats, a Polaris Ranger side-by-side, and they also brought a pallet of donated barbed wire and t-posts.”
In addition to the Smith Center FFA chapter, the South Barber FFA chapter spent a day on the ranch in mid-May.
“The South Barber FFA advisor Kyle Jacobs from Kiowa, Kans., contacted us and put together a group of 30 NRCS employees to come and help,” she said. “They came and rolled up about two miles of fence for us by hand. Jacobs has also been very instrumental in getting donated fence supplies into the hands of those who need them. We were blessed to be recipients of quite a bit of donated materials.”
The Maze family has also received help from a local Amish family, and a Teens for Christ group is coming to Barber County this summer on a mission trip to assist ranchers. They have plans to help several ranchers over the course of a week.
“We, like most ranchers affected by this fire, are busy going back in with all steel corners, so our guys here at the ranch are busy building corners, getting them set and the cement cured,” said Maze. “We are also building some of the fence ourselves, and we have also hired fence crews to build some of it.”
While it can sometimes be difficult to accept help, the relief efforts have helped these ranchers get back on their feet in time for the summer grazing season. Maze said the grass is growing back well, with the area receiving three inches of snow on Easter morning and another five inches of rain since the fire.
“We would strongly encourage any other rancher to work with the FFA chapters,” said Maze. “It is a real world learning experience for these kids that goes well beyond text books. Sadly enough, today’s young kids are getting a lot of bad press. It was a huge encouragement for us to see this group of strong, young men just jump in there, get the work done with a good attitude, and having fun while they were at it.”
Maze recommended that if ranchers are planning to receive volunteer help in the wildfire relief to have a game plan mapped out for the helpers to follow.
“It’s important to have your plan in place and be ready to roll when they pull in, so you can make the most of everyone’s time,” said Maze. “Good communication is key as well. In all of the groups that came to help us, they told us prior to their arrival what they could do and what, if any, equipment they planned to bring. It was extremely helpful when the volunteer groups could bring their own equipment. We have equipment, but ours is being used by our guys who are also out building fence. It allowed us to move forward at a faster pace and get more done.”
Beyond grateful for the help, Maze also said they tried to show their appreciation to their volunteers anyway they could.
“When hosting a group of volunteers, we always put them up at our ranch, have some stay with neighbors or pay for their accommodations at a local guest ranch,” she said. “We also keep them in drinks, feed them well and spoil them as much as they will let us. These people gave their time to us. Many walked away from a week’s wages for us and put in many hard hours on our behalf doing thousands of dollars of work for us at no cost to us. We are so grateful. So many people have been so good to us since the fire, many we don’t even know. Because of the Anderson Creek Fire, we can now fully embrace the concept of what it means ‘to pay it forward.’
For information about The Red Brand Wildfire Relief Program, contact Rakestraw at 309-697-7063, visit redbrand.com or checkout the Red Brand Facebook page.