South Dakota's DX Ranch takes regenerative agriculture direct to consumers
The DX Ranch, located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north central South Dakota, strives not only to make their land better than what it was before but also to help provide affordable food to their community.
Regenerative agriculture is currently a buzzword in agriculture, but at the DX Ranch they’ve been practicing this production system for going on five generations.
The ranch is located on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north central South Dakota. The Ducheneaux family raises quarter horses and 250 head of beef cows working in harmony with Mother Nature to leave the resource better than they found it.
“We’ve really focused on ensuring that we’re not just thinking about the livestock above ground but we’re also thinking about the livestock below ground ,” Kelsey Ducheneaux said.
She said that also translates into a healthier beef product.
“You know there’s a direct connection between soil health and human health through the meats that we eat off the land,” she said.
The holistic approach to their cattle operation includes rotational grazing on 7,800 acres of mostly tribal land. Kelsey, a self-proclaimed “plant nerd” said they are trying to cultivate the native grass species and promote diversity in their plant populations. They harvest hay only from their pastures and feed back out on those pastures so any waste from the hay goes back into the soil and replenishes some of that fertilizer and biological material.
“Our focus is from one pasture to the next, from one move to the next, one day to the next, we want to make sure we don’t mess up what Mother Nature has crafted around us,” Kelsey said.
That philosophy has helped them produce high quality beef cattle for many years, but recently they realized they weren’t getting the true value by selling their cattle like a commodity at the sale barn.
“Our entire year’s livelihood depends on three people in that damn building and if that buyer doesn’t have a good day, he’s not going to make the next bid. And it just drove home the point that we’ve got to try to find a way to do something different than that because we’re all captive to that system,” said Kelsey's father, Zach Ducheneaux .
That was the birth of DX Beef, a direct to consumer business featuring their 100% grass-fed beef. Zach said they’re capturing a larger share of the food dollar by selling more beef in the box last year than live at auction. Cattle last January brought $950 per head at auction.
“Any of those steers that we’re able to keep and sell in the meat next year are going to sell for around $2,500, $2,600 a head,” said Zach, who on Feb. 22 started a new job as administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency.
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And Kelsey said their profits have skyrocketed since the inception of their business, even during the pandemic, “From 2019 and 2020 we saw a 1300 percent in our sales.”
However, profitability isn’t the main goal with DX Beef or the DX Ranch.
“Our focus is being able to provide a quality product to the local community,” Kelsey said.
She explained her frustration with taking her cattle to the sale barn and not knowing where they went after she delivered them. On the way to the sale barn she also drove by many food insecure homes. Ducheneaux wanted to put a face on her product and connect directly to those consumers. Zach added that they are a family-centered with their business model.
“Family comes before the dollar in this operation. We’re not solely about monetizing the value of that product. We realize there’s other values to our beef,” he said.
DX Beef sales are primarily internet based and they’re committed to keeping costs low for food insecure families on the reservation. That’s accomplished in part by leasing and properly managing tribal land.
However, reasonable processing costs help. They work with butchers including Brock’s Butcher Block of Onida, S.D., which is a state-inspected facility. This allows them to sell their beef direct to consumers and DX Beef booked out with them all the way through 2022. However, family support also helps keep their costs down.
“They believe in the mission of figuring out a way to heal our food system and they contribute, and they pitch in wherever,” Kelsey said.
This holistic model keeps them from having to expand like many other operations. So, they can continue to refine their system to again double production. Kelsey said their goal is simple.
“As we continue to enhance our market for our beef be able to transition to a more refined number of our highest producing beef cows. That would allow us to keep 100% of our calf crop back home to be able to market in the form of beef as a two-year-old,” she said.
And Kelsey said that will help them continue to connect to consumers and their community in the future.
“And that’s what really drives me as a producer, as a business owner and as a part of my nation, is finding a way to help others and to feed others," she said. "That’s the goal with DX Beef.”