Winter Named North Dakota Stockmen's Association Top Hand
October 4, 2023 | View PDF
The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) awarded McKenzie County cattleman Keith Winter, a 49-year NDSA member, with the organization’s most prestigious award, the Top Hand Award, at the banquet during its annual convention in Watford City. The Top Hand Award recognizes Winter’s unselfish concern for the land, the country and the cattle industry. Winter joined the exclusive class of 26 ranchers who have received this elite award over the NDSA’s 94-year history when he accepted his bronze statue.
The lifelong rancher and longtime grazing association officer is a leading expert on federal lands issues and grazing and has been looked to by ranchers and state and federal lawmakers alike for his perspective and expertise in this area.
“My grandparents homesteaded our operation back in 1905,” explained Keith, who returned home to continue his family’s ranching tradition 55 years ago in 1968. Before he returned to the ranch, Keith received an engineering degree and worked on the West Coast. “My Great-Uncle Dave had a big influence on me, my life and my ranching career,” he recalled. “Ranching is my hobby and my passion and has been my entire life.”
Keith loves what he does every day. “Whether it’s haying or feeding calves in the middle of winter, I enjoy what I do,” he said. “I enjoy working on the ranch. To be a part of production agriculture is not an opportunity many people in this world get. I am fortunate to be given the chance to be involved in our livestock operation and be in the small percentage.”
Today, Keith and his wife Patricia operate an Angus-Charolais-cross cow-calf operation near Cartwright. They ranch with their sons, John and David. “We have a permit with the McKenzie County Grazing Association,” he said. “I enjoy ranching with my sons. I couldn’t do it without them.” Keith and Patricia have five kids and 12 grandkids. “In the future, I hope that my sons and grandchildren continue the tradition and pass it on.”
Keith reflected on how he got involved in industry organizations: “My late neighbor, Dale Greenwood, sat down in the kitchen of our one-bedroom house 49 years ago and wanted to talk about me becoming more involved,” he explained. “He is the one that signed me up as a member of the NDSA and helped me become more active in the McKenzie County Grazing Association.”
An active member he has surely been, serving 34 years as McKenzie County Grazing Association president, an important role considering the unique ownership and management of the federal grazing lands.
In North Dakota, the federal grasslands are not reservations from the public domain, like the U.S. Forest Service’s national forests established by Congress. Instead, they were purchased during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s from homesteaders in the region.
The McKenzie County Grazing Association, based in Watford City, the NDSA’s birthplace, operates on about half of McKenzie County, North Dakota. McKenzie County has 1.8 million acres in the county and the landscape features a wide diversity of physical features, ranging from sugar beet fields bordering the Missouri River at the northwest corner of the county to rugged Badlands near the Little Missouri River in the south, where Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Little Missouri River National Grasslands are located. The association has been supporting the livestock industry and championing the value of grazing since its inception in 1937. It issues 210 permits and encompasses 930,000 acres. “One of our main goals is to make the U.S. Forest Service live up to the agreement they made in the 1930s – that the lands would be used for agriculture,” Keith explained. “There’s a difference between most federal lands and the land in McKenzie County.”
He is proud of the grazing association’s accomplishments and the stewardship of its ranchers. “Our preference numbers for cattle on the grasslands haven’t been reduced,” he explained. “We have kept the right amount of cattle on the right amount of acres, and we have kept our fellow ranchers and their operations viable in this county.”
Besides his local grazing association service, Keith has also served as the Public Lands Council president, which actively represents livestock producers who hold public lands grazing permits on the national level, and was the chairman of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Federal Lands Committee.
“Keith Winter is very deserving of this prestigious award,” said Mark Voll, a longtime NDSA member, McKenzie County Grazing Association permittee and Keith’s neighbor. “He does such a great job as president of the McKenzie County Grazing Association, because his motives are all about ranching – he is a very intelligent person, a dedicated listener, and important resource, and a truly good friend to have.”