The "Getting Started" Toolkit
Tools and resources for new and old ranchers

By Jim Thorpe
Posted February 22, 2005

This listing is by no means complete or comprehensive; it’s meant to give some idea of the amazing array of resources available to today’s Applied Ecologists (aka Ranchers). Put the words “ranching,” “range management,” “holistic” etc. into an Internet search engine and the number of sites you'll find is truly overwhelming. Most have links that will lead you to still more interesting places.

Thankfully, more and more ranch kids have been teaching their moms and dads how to use the Internet. A remaining bottleneck to accessing all this for ranch folk is the generally very slow and cranky rural phone infrastructure. Someday perhaps, we will all have affordable RIS (“Rural Internet Satellization”)!


Key topics

For integrated GPS and Digital Ranch Mapping visit your local NRCS office (accessible via Soils maps and satellite photos are becoming available online too (but you need a fast connection!).

Ecological Site Descriptions are available through state NRCS websites. Try to get ESDs via your friendly NRCS District Conservationist, as navigating the website and selecting the appropriate description for your lands can be confusing. Note that not all ESDs as yet have “State and Transition Models.”

Fecal Sampling and Analysis for Forage Quality – for details on this process see At $25/sample it’s not cheap, but after a few times you can learn to estimate with reasonable accuracy by tapping the patties with your foot.

Standard Performance Analysis (SPA) – for info and interesting analysis of the economics of ranching in the Southwest, see New Mexico ranchers who wish to participate in this eye-opening process should email

Internet Weather is available at with links to the “Drought Monitor” and elsewhere. Track storms and warnings in real time (TIP: unless you have a really good surge protector it’s a good idea to disconnect when the lightning’s close). NOAA even shows estimated “storm rainfall totals.” Someday, when calibration is perfected (and when you can figure out where your ranch is on their map) all this could be very helpful.


Key books

The Cow-Calf Management Guide & Cattle Producer's Library, the big, heavy yellow book that covers everything from A to Z; well worth the $95 price! Includes annual updates. Available from the University of Idaho,

Jerry Holechek, Range Management: Principles and Practices (Prentice Hall, 2003)

Robert Taylor and Thomas Field, Beef Production and Management Decisions (Prentice Hall, 2002)

Allan Savory, Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making (Island P, 1998). See the Savory Center website ( for other titles.

F. A. Branson et al, Rangeland Hydrology (Society for Range Management, 1981); M. Vavra et al, Ecological Implications of Livestock Herbivory in the West (Society for Range Management, 1994); Paul Krausman, ed., Rangeland Wildlife (Society for Range Management, 1996). All available directly from the Society for Range Management ( in their reference books section.


Plant and animal guides

James Stubbendieck et al, North American Range Plants (Univ. of Nebraska P, 1997)

Tom Whitson et al, Weeds of the West (Wyoming Ag Extension, 1992)

Z. M. Kirkpatrick, Wildflowers of the Western Plains (Univ. of Texas P, 1992)

W. G. Degenhart, Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico (Univ of New Mexico P, 2005)

D. A. Sibley, Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior (Knopf, 2001)


Other publications and websites

The Stockman Grassfarmer (, a monthly newspaper out of Mississippi. They also have lots of good books to order, including Allan Nation's Knowledge Rich Ranching.

BEEF (, Drovers ( and other industry magazines.

Weekly ranching newspapers with market and industry news, producer profiles, ads for cattle, services, supplies, and ranch real estate like: Livestock Weekly (, for links to livestock market reports. Lee Pitts ( for country customs and culture. Western Livestock Journal (


Local and regional histories

These can provide insight into the ranching experience, culture and customs in a given area (including drought cycles!). Every place has its historian—good places to start are your local historical society or museum, post office or country store. In our area, for instance, Faviola Cabeza de Baca, We Fed Them Cactus (Univ of New Mexico P, 1994) documents ranching and homesteading in eastern NM, including chapters about our immediate neighborhood.


People & groups to know

Your neighbors – their local info is invaluable. But don’t be offended if they decline an invitation to your dinner party – they’re probably busier than you are!

Your local agricultural extension county agents and specialists. Ag extension services also have many useful publications, including guides to invasive weeds and poisonous plants.

Your local Natural Resource Conservation Service “DC” (District Conservationist). Hint: They like to get out of the office! NRCS offers many publications and technical assistance for private land owners, including administration and planning for range improvement programs.

The Society of Range Management (

Caren Cowan, executive director of New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association, or your analogous state or regional industry group.

Rangeland consultant Kirk Gadzia ( our favorite grazing guru for planning and occasional reality checks.

And of course, all the friendly folks at The Quivira Coalition (!