In 1882, George Doan packed up his life in Canada and set off to the Dakota Territory to establish his future. Six generations later, his homestead – and family – has evolved into the historic Black Leg Ranch: 17,000 acres of rolling prairie, abandoned farmsteads, post offices, wagon trails, and railroads, and an active multi-product ranch run by the Doans. Every part of Black Leg Ranch, located in Sterling, North Dakota, connects the community to the rural North Dakota experience, from the Black Leg Ranch Meats to the Copper Jewell Event Barn to the Black Leg Brewery to the Rolling Plains Adventure outfitting operation.
The wonderful Kassy has kindly offered her thoughts on what it means to preserve the family legacy while also building new foundations for the future:
You and your husband, Jayce, met in Montana. What brought you back to North Dakota? What keeps you in North Dakota?
We are, in part, running the ranch in North Dakota, along with my husband’s siblings and parents. I am originally from Montana, and my husband and I met in college rodeoing at Montana State. As soon as my husband graduated, he went back home to the ranch. I came to North Dakota to visit and immediately fell in love with it and the life we could have there.
What keeps us here now is the legacy. My husband is very proud of the fact that the ranch has been in his family since 1882 and we want to continue that and, hopefully, inspire our kids and grandkids to want to live and work on the ranch, as well.
Which family traditions have you kept going? What new traditions have you created?
Each sibling has their own niche on the ranch. My husband’s passion has always been within the actual ranching part – raising animals, growing forages, etc. The traditions he’s kept going are that we are still a working cattle ranch, raising our own Angus cattle whose genetics go back to when Jayce’s great-grandfather brought the first Angus cattle to this area in the 1930s. We still grow our own hay, still hold a big annual calf branding, and still pregnancy-test all of our own cattle ourselves. We almost have too many traditions to list, as Jayce is a very traditional person and is very proud of his heritage and what the generations before us did.
As far as new traditions, we’ve added an internship program to the ranch, where we bring college-aged students here for the summer to gain valuable experience and live among us for a few months.
Black Leg Ranch actually has a number of businesses associated with ranching – the brewery, event hosting, outfitting, and the ranch itself. What’s been the greatest challenge of managing it all? What’s been the greatest opportunity?
It works pretty well in that each sibling manages their own part. Ours are the animals and the meats. The greatest challenge is that everyone is super busy and it’s hard to get the other siblings to help with the other ventures. However, the greatest opportunity in that is that we can all feed off of each other. Hunting clients love drinking our beer, people who visit the ranch for events like having a meal or snacks with our own sourced meats, our on-site brewery attracts people to have events, etc. There are endless opportunities.
What are some of your favorite products to sell?
I really enjoy selling any of our beef or bison products. I’m so proud of the fact that every animal we select for processing, and sell under the Black Leg Ranch Meats label, was born and raised on our ranch. We know when it was born, everything that animal was fed for its entire life, everything about it. We love telling the story to consumers and love being able to connect with them and bridge the gap between them and their food. So many consumers are concerned about where their food comes from.
What’s your favorite part of the day-to-day of Black Leg Ranch?
We love the solitude and peace of being here, going out on the prairie and just watching the animals in their natural environment. It’s all very rewarding.
What are you most proud of related to Black Leg Ranch?
The legacy. It’s getting more and more uncommon to find six-generation ranches. We’re very fortunate to be a part of one and can hopefully continue that lineage.
What do you see coming up next for Black Leg Ranch?
The sky is the limit. Everyone has very creative ideas and you never know what might show up next on the ranch.
You recently won an environmental stewardship award. What is your advice for other ranchers and farmers looking to improve their own sustainability?
Jayce’s dad, Jerry, has been very instrumental in improving the land on the ranch. He has implemented many innovative and helpful ideas that have regenerated the land. Our advice to anyone looking to improve is to try and learn some things about improving their operation and just start slow and see if you see any difference. If you dive in head-first it may be overwhelming, so just pick a small piece of what you would like to see and take a stab at it.
What’s your favorite piece of advice – either related to business or life in general?
I’m not sure we have a favorite piece of advice but if we’ve learned anything it would be to spend time doing what you love.
[From Amanda: You can read all about Black Leg Ranch’s ranching practices by clicking here, and purchase a wide variety of beef and bison products by clicking here.]
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