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Three years ago, Kelsey Scott founded DX Beef to bring quality food back to her community.

Jenn Zeller, for the Deseret News

This rancher has her boots on the ground

Statistics say that women are better stewards of the land. Kelsey Scott is here to prove it

SHARE This rancher has her boots on the ground
SHARE This rancher has her boots on the ground

Kelsey Ducheneaux Scott has alert eyes that give telltale signs to what’s on her mind. That’s all right, though, as she has a habit of speaking candidly.

“I don’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t anticipate being involved in the family operation,” Scott says. Before her, Scott’s great-grandfather, grandfather and father held the title of “ranch manager.” Today, she is the first woman in her family to claim it — overseeing daily operations on the 7,200-acre DX Ranch on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.

Looking back, it was Scott’s Grandma Regina who made the biggest impact on her when she was growing up on the ranch. “Granny,” Scott fondly remembers, “always had a pot of coffee on, and no matter how long it had been since she’d been grocery shopping, you better believe that she was going to cook you a meal, even if you said you weren’t hungry.” The Lakota are one of several tribes making up the Sioux Nation, and in their culture, “matriarchs are really the rock and the center of the family,” she says.

Because of the example her Granny set, Scott embraces her role as a rancher and her identity as a woman — despite the lack of female representation in the ag sector. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest census, only 36% of U.S. farmers identify as female.

But this issue goes deeper than simple gender representation. Research indicates that when women manage land, they are more likely to employ conservation strategies and consider the long-term effects of agricultural practices such as human and soil health.

Historically, Native American women are responsible for inventing some of the most innovative practices and tools in Western agriculture. The latest research indicates that the number of women in agriculture at Native American operations hovers around 50% — much higher than in non-Native operations. In these communities, there exists a nearly equal division of labor in food-producing activities — telling a vastly different story than the dominant narrative of white male ranchers in the West.


Kelsey Scott and her grandmother Regina.

Provided by Kelsey Scott

From Scott’s experience, being a woman on the ranch isn’t so much radical as a return to normal. “I feel that women resonate in a stronger way with the living system that is agriculture,” she says, “We have this unique heartstring that gets pulled on a little stronger.”

She is part of a groundswell, not only shifting how ranching happens on the prairies she is from, but also shifting who will come after her, and why. 

Here, in the Missouri Valley of South Dakota, Scott’s ancestors lived along the river’s rich and abundant forested bottomlands and its tributaries. The people moved across the prairies alongside herds of bison, gathering herbs and plants.

Today, the herds of bison are gone, but Scott is part of a growing movement to return the rangeland to its former regenerative state, using cattle in place of bison. “We’re still stewarding the land, we just have to do it differently, because we’re place-bound,” she explains. Scott’s holistic approach includes rotational grazing, prairie monitoring and the replanting of native grasses. She and her family learned to do it differently because history forced them to.


Ranching practices at the DX Ranch are a product of traditional native practices and modern science.

Jenn Zeller, for the Deseret News

Her ancestors’ relocation to the Cheyenne River Reservation is the story of their entire tribe’s relocation: As the influx of white settlers onto traditionally native lands led to increasingly violent conflicts, Native American territory was whittled down to tiny inholdings throughout the Western states. From the 1850s through the 20th century, the federal government repeatedly reneged on promises and the federal policy of relegating Natives onto reservations spelled the end of the Sioux’s semi-nomadic lifestyle, their bison hunting days and much of their Indigenous culture.

However diminished, their tribe managed to retain a small portion of their original lands, bordered on the east by the Missouri River and on the south by the Cheyenne River. This is where you will find the Cheyenne River Reservation today.

Once confined to life on the reservation, Scott’s family had another obstacle to face. In the 1940s, an ill-conceived damming project on the upper Missouri River promising flood control, hydroelectric power, irrigation and water supply for municipal purposes flooded the Sioux’s most productive land and resources without tribal consultation or environmental assessment. Scott’s great-grandpa described the dam and the resulting Lake Oahe as the “gutting of our reservation.”

With the loss of quality farmland to grow crops, cattle ranching soon became the most promising economic venture, but even that required more land than most tribal members could obtain. Scott’s great-grandpa, Frank Ducheneaux, had his allotment relocated from the fertile (now flooded) valley to arid highlands, named “the Great American Desert” by Stephen Long, a government surveyor on an 1820s scientific expedition, due to its extreme temperatures, cyclical droughts and poor soil quality. Compensation rates for the land that was flooded were so low that Ducheneaux’s 1,400 acres of formerly verdant farmland bought only 160 acres in the parched highlands — the starting plot of the DX Ranch. 

The ranch still occupies this land on a tribal lease, but it looks less arid than it did when Ducheneaux acquired it back in the 1960s. That’s because of years of implementing traditional Native practices with modern technology to bring the land to life.

“I say I’m the fourth-generation rancher in my family, but I’m of the 125th generation to help steward the Great Plains,” Scott says. “Some of my ancestors helped to evolve this landscape to what it is now. We were a part of the ecosystem ourselves.”

It’s not perfect. The land is still arid and difficult to work. Tornadoes, hail the size of tennis balls, 110-degree days in the summer and minus-60-degree nights in the winter are just a handful of seasonal woes that can plague the land. “One thing you can count on: It’s always windy,” laughs Scott.

But she’s quick to acknowledge that you can’t have one extreme without the other. “The only reason our Great Plains can be so productive is because of the dormant season.” Without rest, there wouldn’t be robust growth. Today Scott and her family have grown their operation into something sustainable — and aspirational. 


Kelsey Scott, ranch manager of the 7,200-acre DX Ranch.

Jenn Zeller, for the Deseret News

While Scott dipped her toes into solutions surrounding agricultural resource management issues in the academic world (she has a master’s degree in integrated resource management), she states that she wasn’t fully exposed to the boots-on-the-ground concepts of regenerative agriculture until she attended a Quivira Coalition Conference in 2017. Through the conservation organization, she connected with Nicole Masters, an agroecologist who studies the interrelationships of soil microbes, structure and plant health, to learn how to rebuild the fertility of grazing land. That led Scott to become a self-proclaimed “soil nerd.”

“Above ground is less than half of the picture,” she says. “The soil microbiome, the interconnectedness of the fungi, the nematodes, the microbes, the plant roots, the chemistry — that only exists because we have soil as the main host.”

This has shifted what Scott’s idea of success on a ranch actually looks like. She focuses less on productivity — as is often discussed in agricultural circles — and more on the integrity of the ecosystem. Now, the soil is key to all operations at DX. “We use the land as an indication of how we will continue to adapt our management.”

Riding through the grazing pastures, Scott takes notes with a simple clicker tied to her saddle. She clicks for each of the different plants she sees. “Over the course of time, it informs me that we’re trending positive, and biodiversity is increasing,” she says.

Fertilizing and replenishing the soil is also crucial: They cut hay for winter fodder from their own pastures and feed it back onto the same pastures so that leftover hay is incorporated into the nutrient cycle. Additionally, Scott has been able to reduce the negative impact of grazing cattle by increasing the number of the herd’s pastures from four to 18. This allows cows to mimic the grazing patterns of bison herds — never grazing the same pasture in the same season two years in a row— so the grasses can grow past the most delicate stages and build up soil nutrients before it’s grazed again. “Since we’ve been doing this, our pastures get green earlier and stay green longer.”

Scott has seen big benefits for her herds from these changes as well. To date, herd health and immunity have improved to the point that they don’t need the industry-standard two or three applications of oral drench, hormone injections, or broad-spectrum antibiotics that cattle typically receive each year. The calves are fluffy and clear-eyed, and the cows have sleek coats and robust figures. “I’m tasting a difference in our meat quality, that’s how I know that we’re getting an impact throughout the entirety of the system,” Scott says.

She’s looking to expand that impact through her community, too. For the past three years, Scott has operated a direct-to-consumer grass-fed meat operation, DX Beef. And although the demand for grass-fed beef has doubled year after year, and tenderloin can fetch a price of $33 per pound at market, the driving force behind starting the company wasn’t profit, but hunger.

Eagle Butte, the town on the center of the reservation, is one of America’s poorest towns. The entire 4,267-square-mile reservation (about the same size as Connecticut) has only three or four grocery stores. Scott recognized the irony that although up to 80,000 head of high-quality beef cattle were grazing on the reservation at any given time, none of the meat actually made it onto local tables.

The mission of starting DX Beef was simple: provide nourishing, affordable food to the community. With direct-to-consumer sales, Scott aims to close the loop and cut out unnecessary fees. Selling the cattle at auction to wholesale meat buyers undervalued DX’s cattle and severed the connection between producer and consumer. Direct-to-consumer sales allowed DX Beef financial feasibility without added costs for consumers — a win-win that Scott hopes catches on around the West and the rest of the country.

For that reason, she often shares her business “secrets” with other ranchers, “I’m always trying to train my competitors because, for me, it’s not about the whole world eating DX beef. It’s about helping others to model after us. It’s about the whole world feeling empowered to go seek out other producers to feed their family.” 

If you were to visit the ranch today in the bitter winter months, you might find Scott lost in myriad tasks: organizing beef for delivery, putting up hay with the tractor or working with a horse. Or you might find her with an ax in hand, breaking ice atop vital water sources on the mornings below freezing. The horses need hay, and mineral tubs must be checked. “We also have to make sure the bulls are where they’re supposed to be, and not going to visit the neighbors,” she says. Mixed in with all this is her time spent on the land conducting rangeland inventory and soil sampling.

This might not sound like the typical ranch life you would expect to hear about in the American West, which has been painted by imaginings of swaggering cowboys and rodeos, of saloons and shootouts. Scott isn’t what you’d imagine a rancher of folktales past to be, because she’s what a rancher of today is. 

This story appears in the March issue of Deseret MagazineLearn more about how to subscribe.