North Dakota Grows: Black Leg Ranch Meats

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:

Doan Family & Business

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. 

Doan Family & BusinessBlack 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. 

Doan Family & BusinessWhat 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.]

Dear Miss Amanda Silverman

From Amanda: I recently wrote about my part in the 1997 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.  I received the following handwritten letter from Alden L. Burris of Inkster, N.D. shortly after returning from New York.  I’m a hoarder of letters and have saved just about every one ever sent to me; I particularly get a kick out of this one every time I read it (because it’s great storytelling).  Today felt like a good day to share it with all of you.

Dear Miss Amanda Silverman,

I read in the Grand Forks Herald that you and another young lady from Grand Forks, Shosti Iverson, made the All Star Dance Team and won the right to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.  Though I didn’t get a chance to watch the parade on television, I wanted to let you know that I’d heard of your good fortune and offer my congratulations to you.

An article in the Herald the day after the parade told about high winds in the city during the parade, presented quite a challenge to the participants who were handling the giant balloons.  It told of one balloon crashing into a lamppost, knocking part of it down on the heads of some spectators.  This brought back memories of my glorious youth and the time I went to the Big City and encountered a high wind.

It was back in May of 1954, if my memory serves me right.  Friends and neighbors, Harold and Geneva Maxwell owned a fairly new Studebaker pickup with a stock rack on it.  The meat packing plant was still operating in Grand Forks and we had a couple of calves that Ma wanted to sell.  Maxwells were going to the Forks and offered to take the calves.  I was invited to go along.

I don’t remember exactly when the wind hit, it must have been after we unloaded the calves.  It wasn’t a storm, the wind just changed direction and started blowing fiercely.

I remember walking on the street by a cigar store, or pipe store or some kind of a tobacco place.  Anyway the store had a large window in the front of it and the wind had blown it out.  Then when I walked around a corner, there was a woman holding on to a lamppost for dear life to keep from blowing away.  You could barely walk, the wind was so strong.

One of the Maxwell girls, Betty, is married to Al Sheppard and his folks lived, I think, kind of on the southern edge of town in the woods.  We went to visit them and it was nice and quiet there because of all the trees.  Going home was difficult because the wind was at an angle to the highway and Harold had quite a time keeping the pickup on the road.

When we got to our farm, no buildings had blown over, but our windmill had gone down.

I didn’t know it at the time, but since I’d watched Too Tall Tom give the weather I know that the terrible wind was caused by the isobars being too close together.

In conclusion, let me say, that from the looks of your picture in the Herald, “Big”* has grown into an attractive young lady and Shosti isn’t exactly “chopped liver,” either.

I’m not familiar with that branch of the Iverson tree, though I do know Curtis Iverson who along with his lovely wife, Janice, own and operate the Ford Store and Trustworthy Hardware in Fordville, North Dakota.  I don’t know if Curtis is related to Shosti Iverson.  I don’t know if Curtis can dance.  I don’t think he can kick very high, because his legs are so darn short.

I hope that your wish for a dancing career is fulfilled and my best wishes to you and your family for the season and the new year.


Alden Burris

P.S. Since we’re approaching the Festival of Lights, I’m enclosing a little gift for you.  If you’re uncertain as what to do with this tremendous windfall, you should probably tune into P.B.S. on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

Uncle Lous Rukeyser and his colleagues present much economic information in a clear and forthright manner, except when Jim Grant is on.  He’s kind of hard to follow, sort of speaks in parables.

*My mother, Robin Silverman, had a long-running column in the Grand Forks Herald, in which she called me “Big” and my sister “Little.”

A little North Dakota Christmastime Niceness

One in six North Dakotans need food assistance – and Grand Forks County has the fourth-highest food insecurity rate in the state.  To lend a helping hand, I have partnered with the fantastic and creative Kenzie Dorsher of Dorshie Designs and we will be donating 100% of proceeds from this awesome sticker to the St. Joseph’s Food Bank in Grand Forks.

Please check it out (and take a peek at her other stickers; I just gave Kyle a “Serenity by Jan” candle).  Thank you for supporting the Food Bank!