The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association awarded McKenzie County cattleman Melvin Leland with the organization’s most prestigious award, the Top Hand Award, at a special awards banquet during its annual convention in Minot, N.D., over the weekend.
“This is an award that is not handed out every year. We save it for special occasions, for people who have risen to the top of their industry and have given back to that industry,” explained NDSA President Dan Rorvig, a McVille, N.D. cattleman. “Melvin Leland has served us at the state level as NDSA president, at the national level as the Red Angus Association of America president and has a long tenure with the North Dakota State Board of Animal Health, where he is currently the chairman. Besides that, he’s just an all-around good guy.”
Leland’s father homesteaded the Leland Ranch on the North Dakota/Montana border in 1911. His father died when he was only 4, so Leland started helping on the ranch at a young age. He earned an animal and range science degree from North Dakota State University in 1966. He and his wife Luella started a commercial operation, using Red Angus bulls on their commercial cows. They began marketing bulls in 1971 and soon became a highly respected seedstock provider. When the RAAA started recognizing percentage cattle in 1980, that was a perfect fit for Leland Red Angus, and there was a lot of demand for their cattle type.
Today, they run 500-plus females, managing their registered purebred and percentage cowherd much like a commercial operation, with the exception of having a strictly regulated breeding program. Predictable cattle performance has always been important to Lelands. They have hosted production sales for 35 years. One herd highlight is that their bull, WFL Merlin 018A, currently leased to Genex, an artificial insemination stud, is one of the most heavily used bulls in the Red Angus breed today.
Through the years, Lelands have placed a high priority on herd, grass and land management. They focus on caring for and best utilizing their natural environment by producing cattle that fit the range conditions and yield a safe, wholesome product for consumers. Leland remains concerned about misinformation that hits consumers and negatively affects the industry, such as the current fake meat issue.
Melvin and Luella have three grown children. Their daughter Tracey and her husband Steve Koester live near Steele, N.D., and have two daughters, Kacey and her husband Jake Jacobson, and Shaye. Their daughter Tana and her husband JJ Hovde live near Sidney, Mont., and have three children, Trista, Wacey and Cedar. Their son Todd, his wife Carla and their son Trey are partners in the family operation. The Koesters market age-advantaged Red Angus bulls in the family’s production sale, and veterinarian JJ Hovde provides herd health input.
A 51-year NDSA member, Leland served three years on the NDSA Board of Directors and a two-year term as vice president before serving as NDSA president from 2004 to 2006. He dedicated many years to the NDSA and continues to remain involved.
Currently, Leland is serving his second seven-year term on the North Dakota State Board of Animal Health, where he represents registered purebred cattle breeders. The board is responsible for the protection and care of all livestock and animals in North Dakota, including non-traditional livestock and wildlife. The Lelands have also been actively involved in the McKenzie County Grazing Association. Lelands are very dedicated to their ranching operation and their way of life, but also feel very strongly about community and church involvement.
Others have recognized Leland for his industry contributions. Within the RAAA, he has been honored as the Pioneer Breeder of the Year and received the inaugural Melvin Leland Innovative Leadership Award and a Distinguished Service Award. He was honored as the Society for Range Management Rangeman of the Year, the NDSU Saddle and Sirloin Club’s Agriculturalist of the Year and the NDSU Alumni Association’s Agriculturalist of the Year. Finally, he was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in the modern-era ranching division in 2012.