Leopold Conservation Award Program - North Dakota 2016

North Dakota 2016 Black Leg Ranch McKenzie, ND Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

In the late 1800s, Jerry Doan’s great grandfather, George H. Doan, moved from Canada to homestead in the Dakota Territory. 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 Jerry completed his studies in animal science at North Dakota State University, he wanted to learn more about how he could take a holistic management approach to managing the ranch. He attended a holistic management program and became impressed with how the methods taught included ways to improve rangeland, natural resources, wildlife and his bottom line. The Doans have since made major strides on the ranch as a result of taking a holistic approach.

Black Leg Ranch

The farm contains 700 acres of cover crops consisting of a 20 species mix, and has also been no-till for over 15 years. The cover crop diversity has benefited wildlife, pollinators and has been a cost-effective source for winter grazing.

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

Their grazing system has significantly improved the rangeland, stimulating immense plant diversity. Very sandy rangeland that was once bare and used for recreational vehicles is now covered with big and little bluestem, purple prairie clover and yellow coneflower. Their holistic techniques have also allowed more plant litter to accumulate on the ground, adding structure and natural fertilizer to the system while keeping the soil cooler and evaporation at a minimum.

The Doans have further diversified their ranch by adding a full service hunting/outfitting business, which has been featured on many national and regional hunting shows and received an award from the governor for having the best tourism package in the state. In the near future, the ranch will also feature a winery.

“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,” states Rachel Bush, North Dakota Coordinator for Pheasants Forever.

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