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Doud Ranch to receive South Dakota's inaugural Leopold Conservation Award

Conservation honor ... Marlis and Rick Doud will receive the Leopold award at the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association convention December 1. “I am one of those who don’t like to be in the limelight, but this is such a big honor for all ranchers and farmers. We have to get the word out that ranchers and farmers are good stewards of the land. You take care of it and it takes care of you,” said Rick Doud. Courtesy photo

Rick and Marlis Doud, operators of a ranch 35 miles north of Midland, are being recognized for their conservation work.

The Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes land-owner achievement in conservation, is presented to the Douds by the Sand County Foundation in cooperation with the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association and the South Dakota Grassland Coalition.

The Sand County Foundation, a Wisconsin-based conservation group, will present the award and a $10,000 check this year to the Douds in South Dakota and to landowners in seven other states this year, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

"This is a pretty big splash in South Dakota, and will be a part of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Associatio convention," said Lyle Perman, president of the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition. "It's a pretty prestigious award and any ranch or farm family would consider this a real honor. The Douds are the first-ever recipients in South Dakota."

According to Perman, Jim Faulstich, vice chairman of the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, was the push behind getting this award established. "We probably wouldn't have the award in South Dakota if not for him," said Perman. The SDGC nominated the Douds for the award. There were 13 other nominations, the most that any state has seen for its inaugural year in presenting the award.

"Judge Jessop, project coordinator for the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, called and said we were nominated and that he would visit," said Doud. "I know that Judge called at least one of our neighbors to ask about my operation and how we did things. I am one of those who doesn't like to be in the limelight, I'd rather just do my job, but this is such a big honor for all ranchers and farmers. We have to get the word out to the general public that ranchers and farmers are good stewards of the land. You take care of it and it takes care of you."

"I've always encouraged and supported my husband in his dreams and goals for our ranch," said M. Doud. "I am proud of his efforts and hard work in making changes that were sometimes very difficult. This award is a humbling honor to receive. And, as always, we thank God for all He has done for us and for the good people in our lives."

Once contacted, the Douds had to supply interview information on six different conservation catagories.

"We had to do a biography," said R. Doud. "I don't know why we were picked. To me, there are other people just as qualified, if not more, than we are."

Jessop said, "The Douds have put in dams, trees, fencing and pipeline. But, they have an overall ethic to keep the land, through an ongoing effort, in a healthy state for generations to come. The award is also to recognize that there are other people out there also doing this and doing a really good job."

The original applications were in before October. A call from Jessop, October 16, confirmed that the Douds were in the top four. They found out October 26 on a conference call that they had won. The award, called the Aldo Leopold crystal, will be presented to the Douds, December 1, at the 2010 South Dakota Cattlemen's Association's annual convention in Aberdeen.

"Rick and Marlis Doud are exceptional, innovative stewards of the natural resources that are under their care," said Dr. Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation president. "They reach out to others through a great deal of community involvement and educational opportunities that promote the importance of sustainable agriculture."

The Douds changed their management technique when they transitioned to rotational grazing and a summer calving program. In 1999 and 2000, Rick attended the Ranching for Profit school. He started experimenting with rotating two herds through three pastures each. Doud noticed that every time they moved the herd, the cattle acted like it was lush, new regrowth, even though little regrowth was apparent. They noted that their cows were quieter and less stressed, which they believe equates to less health management costs and more pounds of beef being produced.

In 2002, the Doud's moved their calving date to May 12. They move all cows to summer pastures after May 1 and start rotating through seven different pastures while calving. Their first rotation is anywhere from five to 10 days per pasture. The second rotation is from eight to 14 days with most pastures getting a rest period from 30 to 90 days.

R. Doud has served on the West River/Lyman-Jones Rural Water Board for 15 years and has also served on the state rural water board for eight years, serving as vice-chairman in 2008 and 2009.

In cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, the Douds have planted three shelter belts, each with five to six rows of trees, to catch snow for runoff and provide bird nesting cover and wildlife habitat.

The Douds have a drought plan of destocking by May 1 if adequate moisture has not been received. Older cows on the ranch are tagged differently, so they can be identified easily and sold first in the event of inadequate moisture. The next group to sell is the yearlings if range conditions are being stressed. They have destocked twice in the last seven years to protect the resources on their ranch.

For their stewardship efforts, in 2007 the Douds received the Soil and Moisture Award from the Haakon County Conservation District.