When she was two, Kelsey Ducheneaux’s father got her a Christmas gift. Not a doll or a dress, but a cattle brand.
“Ducheneaux is a pretty common name in Indian Country here, and is often abbreviated as DX,” Kelsey Ducheneaux says. “He couldn’t believe that the DX brand was available, and he snatched it right up for me.” Today Ducheneaux’s DX Ranch operates on 7,500 acres that encompasses her great-grandfather’s original 160 acres near La Plant, South Dakota, not far from the Missouri River on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
A fourth-generation rancher and enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, she raises grass-fed cattle and sells directly to the public. She also shares her Lakota heritage and ranching lifestyle through “ranch stays” in which guests learn about the work and values of ranch life, Ducheneaux says.
“We have two bunkhouses attached to our 200-foot-long indoor riding facility, and we host visitors to give them a taste of what it is that we love so much about this lifestyle,” she says. “We help create a different narrative around how we as Tribal members see our resources and meet our needs locally.”
Guests stay in one of two furnished bunkhouses that are attached to a 200-foot-long indoor riding arena. Bunkhouses can sleep up to four each, and have private baths. Each guesthouse has a kitchenette as well with a full refrigerator, but those mostly go unused as hearty meals are provided in the ranch dining room. After fueling up on a rancher’s breakfast, guests get underway with the day’s adventures.
Ducheneaux says she caters her guests’ experiences to what they want, from doing some beginning trail riding though the waving grass and rolling hills of her ranch to rolling up their sleeves and helping with repairing fencing, sorting cattle and other ranching chores. An accomplished horsewoman, Ducheneaux gives riding lessons for all skill levels in her arena or out on the range.
A typical stay is an arrival day, two full days of activities and a departure day, starting at $975. Throughout the year Ducheneaux and her team offer special horsemanship clinics and workshops, including the Horsemanship Experience. The Horsemanship Experience is five nights, four days of intensive horsemanship work for $2,100 April 1 through October 15 (peak season) or $900 October 16 through March 31 (off-season).
Ducheneaux provides her quarter horses, or guests may trailer in their own horses. Hay is included for those who bring their own horses. All meals are provided and taken with the DX Ranch crew, including supper with DX ranch beef. Each day begins with breakfast followed by classes, riding, training and roping exercises. Ducheneaux says the cornerstone of the DX Ranch’s philosophy is that “The horse is never wrong,” meaning that the horse responds and behaves according to the person working with it.
By teaching horsemanship to all skill levels of riders, Ducheneaux introduces a mindfulness aspect to her teaching. These skills in working with horses can also be used to relate with other people, Ducheneaux says. Ducheneaux’s Uncle Les further teaches visitors about Titunwan (Lakota) traditions and ways.
“Uncle Les is a traditional practitioner that we all seek guidance from here on the ranch,” she says. “He is really thoughtful in how he presents the principles that ground us in our cultural beliefs.”
Ducheneaux uses revenue from her ranch vacation-stays to fund her non-profit program, Project H3LP!, a program that teaches Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation youth “awareness, presentation and empathy” through horsemanship. Project H3LP! is designed to help foster responsible development in youth through physical, mental, emotional and spiritual foundations, Ducheneaux says.
“Working with horses interacts with all of those aspects, and our youth can apply what they learn to other areas of their life including family, jobs, education and relationships with other people.”
Ducheneaux has incorporated traditional Lakota land stewardship and has improved her ranchland-prairie through conservation techniques she learned earning natural resources and range management degrees from North Central University and Colorado State University. She employs conservation practices such as reintroducing mixed grasses and using cross fencing to control grazing pressure and other stewardship techniques to greatly improve her land’s health and production.
“Since we’ve been doing this, our vegetation is way up,” she says. “We have a variety of robust grasses that make for a longer growing season.”
The DX Ranch used to sell only to wholesale meat producers, but in recent years has moved its business model to sell directly to the public.
“It makes me feel really good knowing that our cattle’s life destinies are to provide good food to our neighbors, and that the cattle had good lives, as well,” she says.
Ducheneaux says that the events of 2020 have drastically increased her ranch’s direct sales.
“In 2019, we tracked about $4,000 in direct sales, mostly quarter and half sides of beef,” she says. “As of the second quarter of 2020, we saw our direct-sales business growth increase by 1,895 percent.”
Ducheneaux says that she was already determined to increase her 2020 direct sales. She developed new websites for her beef and ranch-stay businesses, and scheduled out more butcher slots for 2020 in anticipation of increased business. But as concern about food supplies increased in early 2020, more and more people began searching for local food sources, she says.
“The grocery store shelves went empty for a week, and people began looking for other food suppliers and asking around. Culturally, we’re very connected to our food sources. Many of our (Lakota) stories involve food and the proper use of plants and herbs. In our modern society now, people don’t think about that, getting food is just a chore and it’s removed us from our food sources.”
Ducheneaux says she answered hundreds of questions about food as people became concerned about food security.
“I believe people should have full transparency in their food sources,” she says. “That’s the principle DX Beef has always stood behind, and we’ve gained a lot of customers in 2020. I don’t foresee them going back, because there’s so much comfort in knowing exactly where your food is coming from and that it’s safe.”
The exponential increase in business has Ducheneaux exploring establishing her own butchering facility to keep up with demand. And she says she looks forward to continuing to share her family’s Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation heritage with guests who are interested in food sourcing, ranch skills and horsemanship. She’s also hoping to continue the expansion of Project H3LP!, and all the while is earning her Ph.D. in Education
“Here at the ranch, it’s the easiest hello and the hardest goodbye,” she says. “We were taught to always have the coffee on and to have enough food for everyone. Everybody is always welcome here.”
For more information about DX Ranch beef sales, visit DXBeef.com. To learn more about ranch stays, visit TheDXRanch.com, and for Project H3LP! visit www.projecth3lp.org.