ND man to be stockmen rancher of year
September 9, 2015
The country surrounding Rhame, N.D., is highlighted by the buttes that crest its horizon, wide-open hill country and a ranching tradition that marks the transition into North Dakota's Badlands. For Larry Njos and his wife Peg, these "foothills" are home.
Larry, a 35-year North Dakota Stockmen's Association (NDSA) member, is the NDSA's 2015 Rancher of the Year. He will be honored with the award at the annual banquet during the NDSA's 86th Annual Convention & Trade Show at the Ramada in Bismarck, N.D. on Sept. 26.
Having grown up on his ranch 12-and-a-half miles south of Rhame, he is working to keep the tradition alive on the Pronghorn Ranch.
"I think of myself as a traditional rancher," he said. "We continue to update our practices, but there have been a lot of generations previous that built this, and it takes a lot for me to say that they were wrong."
Today, the Njos family operates a 260-head Angus cow-calf operation. But, prior to Larry's father starting the herd in 1964, the Pronghorn Ranch was known for its sheep production.
Larry graduated from Rhame High School and immediately began ranching full-time. He said ranching is the only career he has ever wanted.
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"Ranching is all I've ever wanted to do, and to be named by my fellow ranchers for this award means so much," Larry said. "I've always looked at awards like this as something
other people win, not me. I was completely surprised when I got that nomination letter."
Larry's father, Selmer, moved to the ranch from his father's homestead in Harding County, S.D. As part of a large family, his father served four years in Panama during World War II before moving back to southwestern North Dakota and starting the ranch.
Before moving to the ranch, Selmer lived in town in Bowman, N.D.
"He couldn't stand that, so he had an opportunity to buy a place of his own, and that's the place that we're on today," Larry said. "His ideas are the base of my ideas now: rotate grass, protect the land and raise good cattle."
Larry's father died in 1999, but the Pronghorn Ranch hasn't strayed from those important tenets. Today, the Njos family has adopted an artificial insemination program in an effort to positively boost its genetics and is continuing work to support the ranch's riparian area and wildlife.
In 2004, the ranch installed more than five miles of waterline to enhance access to local water supplies. Larry said similar projects are in the works. Currently, the ranch is installing more than nine miles of wildlife-friendly fencing as part of the region's greater sage grouse conservation effort.
"We have to leave more than we take," he said. "It's not only helped the cattle, but it's helped the riparian area. We're trying to be aware and do what we can do. We just want to make sure that things are done right."
For the Njos family, the effort to preserve the ranch doesn't end at conservation. Larry points to a strong working relationship with his family as a primary reason for the ranch's success.
"Having Peg and the kids there, that's an incentive for me to keep making the place better and better," he said. "If I didn't have them, I don't know where I'd be. I probably
wouldn't have the same initiative to keep up these days."
Larry's and Peg's two sons both grew up in the ranching tradition. Royce, their oldest, is now a bank executive in Red Lodge, Mont., where he lives with his wife Jackie, daughter Peyton and son Miles.
Ryan is a full partner in the ranch, where he lives with his wife Nicole and sons Owen and Ian.
"Any decisions that are made on the ranch are made together as partners," Larry said. "We're okay there. You have to work at it. There's always moments, but I had a good working relationship with my dad and now that has just kept working with my son."
Ryan took to one of the Njos family's longest held traditions, leaving home for a brief stint as an assistant driver with the Priefert Percheron Draft Horse Hitch. The family has always owned a team of Belgian draft horses. Larry used to raise the breed on the Pronghorn Ranch, and continues to feed with the horses at times today.
Larry grew up riding and working horseback. As an adult, he team-roped on both the heading and heeling sides.
Larry said horses built a sense of community for him as a child, when he and his neighbors spent most of their free time roping and riding the countryside south of Rhame.
"We have great neighbors," he said. "They would come on the run if we needed them. We all used to get together at branding time and rope calves."
As they've gotten older, they've changed their method of branding to include the use of a calf table, but continue to work alongside their neighbors.
Larry also continues to give back to his community, serving on the Badlands Ministries Board of Directors for one term; the Bethany Lutheran Church Board for 21 years; the Rhame Rural Fire Protection Board for more than 20 years and as a member of the Rhame Saddle Club.
For Larry, the key to the Pronghorn Ranch's success is his family, neighbors and hard work.
"All of my experiences have helped me," he said. "Growing up out here, none of it hurt me. It helped me appreciate what we have now. Ranch life is a good way of life."
Larry will accept the 2015 Rancher of the Year Award during the NDSA's Annual Banquet on Sept. 26. For more information or tickets, call (701) 223-2522 or visit http://www.ndstockmen.org.
–North Dakota Stockmen's Association