North Dakota 2016 Black Leg Ranch McKenzie Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

Jerry Doan’s great grandfather, George H. Doan, moved from Canada to homestead in the Dakota Territory in the late 1800s. What began as a 160-acre homestead with a sod house has grown into a 17,000-acre farm and ranch. Jerry and his wife Renae own and manage the fourth and fifth generation Black Leg Ranch, and their children are poised to take the reins in the coming years.

After completing his studies in animal science at North Dakota State University, Jerry wanted to learn about ranch management. A holistic management program impressed him with ways to improve rangeland, natural resources, wildlife and his bottom line. The Doans have since made major strides on the ranch thanks to taking a holistic approach.

Black Leg Ranch

The Doans use no-till farming practices, and plant 700 acres of cover crops with a 20-species mix. The cover crop diversity has benefited wildlife, pollinators and has been a cost-effective source for winter grazing.

Some of the Doans' biggest goals are improving the ecological health and sustainability on the ranch, and diversification. Their infrastructure projects have allowed them to implement an intensive grazing system, mimicking what bison once accomplished – grazing in large numbers and impacting the ground with their hooves, then allowing the grass a long period of rest before returning to graze.

Their grazing system has improved the rangeland by stimulating plant diversity. Sandy rangeland that was once bare is now covered with big and little bluestem, purple prairie clover and yellow coneflower. Their holistic techniques allow more plant litter to accumulate on the ground, adding structure and natural fertilizer while keeping the soil cooler and evaporation at a minimum.

The Doans diversified by adding a full service hunting/outfitting business. It has been featured on national hunting shows and received a state tourism award. They have also opened Black Leg Brewery on the ranch for tourists.

“Leopold stated that in order to practice the science of land health, one must first have a picture of how healthy land maintains itself. Black Leg Ranch, through their holistic approach to managing are providing that picture to future generations,” said Rachel Bush, North Dakota Coordinator for Pheasants Forever.

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