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Learn about this award-winning ND rancher

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 8:43 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - What does it take to be one of the best ranchers in North Dakota? Just a few weeks ago, the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association awarded a third-generation rancher in Killdeer with their most prestigious award.

Of the more than 90 years the Stockmen’s Association has been organized, only 24 ranchers have been given the honor.

Gene Harris’ cattle are well-trained. When he honks his horn, they know to go to him. “Ki-bas! Ki-Bas! Ki-Bas!” Harris yelled from his truck.

Ranching traditions run deep on this Dunn County plot. But the land wasn’t just rich in history. It was also rich in minerals.

“We’re unique probably in the sense that this land was owned by absentee ranch owners that came here from Illinois in the mid-30′s. The family mined and actually manufactured zinc,” said Harris. His grandfather started ranching the land in 1938 for the owners. They expanded their cattle and built a home... ordered through the Sears Catalog.

Gene grew up and worked on the land. Both of his parents passed away by the time he turned 21. He left college to take over.

The family bought the land shortly thereafter.

“Well now when you’re older, and you look back, we basically did the same things we had been doing or that we grew up doing. Didn’t make any adjustments at the time,” said Harris.

Gene and his ranch has seen and endured everything North Dakota has thrown at it, including droughts like this year’s. It’s this dedication and success which helped him win the Top Hand Award from the Stockmen’s Association. But even though there’s only one name on the trophy, he said there are mentors, work hands, and loved ones who made it happen.

“My wife Janelle, we’re gonna be married 40 years here in another week, and that didn’t come without some sacrifice too. But, it’s a sacrifice on her part that allowed me to be involved in the industry and attend the meetings and be able to travel the world,” said Harris.

He added that winning the award was a humbling experience, and never thought he would be included in such an exclusive group of ranchers. Adding it hasn’t quite set in yet.

Harris has a litany of other awards he’s collected over the years. He was a director of the North Dakota High School Rodeo Association, the Dunn County Job Development Association, the Killdeer Co-op Board and the Killdeer Dollars for Scholarship Association, and was recognized as the Roughrider Days Rancher of the Year in 2016

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