Lowell Anderson sits down at the dining room table. Carefully, he lifts his leg, and gently rests it on a wooden chair. As he gets comfortable, he lets out a sigh. Two weeks earlier, he broke his leg in a horse-riding accident. But he’s getting by. Managing a broken leg during the winter months offers its own unique set of challenges, especially when living on a 4,000-acre ranch. But there’s no rest for Anderson, who, with his wife, Teresa, oversee the day-to-day operations at Silkwood Ranch near Williamsburg. Despite the lingering ice and snow patches, Anderson remains agile, avoiding the slippery surfaces with the help of his crutches. When it’s time to feed cattle, he reluctantly dons a cumbersome walking boot to protect the bone as it heals. He doesn’t seem to like it, but knows he must do whatever he can so he’s ready for the spring calves coming in a few weeks.
Lowell and Teresa moved to the ranch in 1992. At the time, the Netherland family of St. Joseph, Mo., raised registered and commercial horned Hereford cattle on the acreage. But in 2003, the ranch sold to Jim Bichelmeyer, and his brother, Joe, both of Shawnee, for their commercial Angus cow-calf operation.
At first, the Bichelmeyers raised black Angus, but entirely transitioned to the red variety within the past three years. As ranch manager, Anderson is responsible for the feeding and care of the cattle as well as repairing equipment, corrals and fencing and also managing acre after acre of grassland.
The Franklin County Conservation District’s 2018 Grassland Award recognized Bichelmeyer Land and Cattle, Silkville Ranch and Anderson for grassland improvements and management. The award was given during the 2019 Franklin County Conservation Board’s annual meeting Thursday at Celebration Hall on the Franklin County fairgrounds.
Established in 1868, Silkville got its name from a wealthy Frenchman, E.V. de Boissiere, who purchased the land to create a self-sustaining Socialist commune. Because silk and silk ribbon production were the main industries there, 70 acres were set out with mulberry trees to feed the silk worms. A large stone building was also constructed to house the looms and the cocoonery. By 1872, the three looms at Silkville could make 224 yards of ribbon a day. Soon, interest in silk production spread throughout Kansas. Within the next decade, imported silk became cheaper to make. As a result, silk production ceased at Silkville, and the idea of a commune died.
In 1892, de Boissiere deeded his property to the International Order of Odd Fellows to establish an orphanage and industrial school for the children of deceased I.O.O.F. of Kansas. The gift included the 3,100-acre farm with nine stone buildings, an apple orchard, a mulberry grove and a walnut grove. But within two years, the organization severed its ties, and the property wound up in court. Eventually, the property went on the auction block. Even years later, reminders of Silkville can still be seen. Some of the original limestone barns are still standing as is the property’s large farmhouse, where the Andersons live. The house is a smaller version of the original manor house, which was partially destroyed by fire in April 1916. The home was eventually rebuilt to a third of its original size. Even a few of the original mulberry trees are still standing.
Anderson remembers working on the ranch after graduating from Williamsburg High School in 1974. During a summer windstorm, the two-story, stone cocoonery suffered a serious blow. The building was remodeled into the one-story horse barn Lowell and Teresa still use. Cattle raised at Silkville Ranch are later processed, dry-aged and sold alongside other locally raised cows and hogs through the Bichelmeyers’ retail butcher shop, Bichelmeyer Meats, in Kansas City, Kan. Founded by John F. Bichelmeyer in 1946, the business is owned and operated by John’s sons, Jim and Joe, and his grandson, Matt. While the family lives miles away in the Kansas City metro area, Jim and Joe visit the ranch on a weekly basis.
During the last 10 to 12 years, Anderson and the Bichelmeyers invested in grassland management efforts, including maintaining vegetative cover throughout the ranch. Other conservation efforts included stock pond reconstruction and fencing cattle away from ponds. The ranch has approximately 2,800 acres of native grasses. The rest, Anderson said, include cool season hay meadows or pastures.
“We looked to the conservation district on how to do this,” Anderson said. “We wanted professional, technical help, and they were very helpful in understanding and balancing what the cattle need with conservation needs. They’ve been thoughtful about the production side by locating stock tanks where we need them, and still allow cattle to forage more efficiently. And keep water sources clean. That’s mainly what we accomplished.
“Our ponds have vegetation surrounding them now where they were being trampled before. With the cost-savings, we feel like we could do more projects.”