Ladder Livestock Company: Ranching family incorporates innovation into operation ￼
Ladder Livestock Company is a ranching operation in the Little Snake River Valley on the Colorado-Wyoming border near Savery. The ranch is operated by Pat O’Toole, his wife Sharon, daughter Meghan O’Toole Lally and son Eamon O’Toole.
The ranch primarily raises and markets Angus and Black Baldy cattle and Rambouillet and Hampshire sheep. They also grow alfalfa and hay for winter feed for the livestock.
Cattle, sheep, farming and family are what the O’Toole’s lives revolve around.
“Family is everything to us,” says Eamon. “This place wouldn’t exist without all of us.”
Family roots and transitions
The O’Toole’s ranch is in its 141st year of operation. A.W. and Anna Louise Salisbury established the original ranch near the confluence of the Little Snake River and Battle Creek in 1881. They bought a “relinquishment” from the son-in-law of Mountain Man Jim Baker, and established themselves in the horse business.
A.W. acquired his first stock by traveling to Eagle Pass, Texas, buying horses, hiring a crew and trailing them back to the Little Snake River Valley. The ranch has been home to the family for six generations.
“The ranch started out as a horse ranch, and then my grandpa ran yearlings for a long time,” says Meghan. “Our cow/calf operation was just kind of a side thing at first.”
While cows used to be the main stock, Sharon and Pat worked to build up their sheep herd.
Meghan and Eamon are in the process of taking over the ranch.
“We’ve been really lucky that our parents are willing to give up control and let us take over,” says Meghan.
Meghan manages the sheep and Eamon focuses on the cows, but they work together to manage the ranch overall.
“Our parents wanted us to run the ranch as a whole,” says Eamon. “Meghan manages our sheep operation, and I manage the cows. We all manage the ranch as one, but in terms of day-to-day stuff, we take care of our own deal.”
The O’Tooles recognize the value in having multiple family members operating the ranch.
“Any one of the four of us can run this operation day-to-day but in terms of running the operation as a whole, it would be near impossible to do by yourself,” says Eamon.
The O’Tooles know the importance of actively participating in organizations affecting Western agriculture. Pat served in the Wyoming Legislature and on the Presidentially-appointed Western Water Policy Commission. He is also the president of the Family Farm Alliance, representing Western irrigators.
In addition, Pat serves on the board of directors for the Intermountain Joint Venture, a public/private group advocating for migratory birds and on the boards of Partners for Conservation, Farm Foundation and Solutions from the Land.
Pat is active in Western water issues, opposing the loss of agricultural water through transfers. He has testified before Congress regarding Western issues several times.
Sharon advocates for Western agriculture through her writing. She has been published in regional and national publications, including The Washington Post. Sharon currently blogs for the Western Folklife Center, serves on the Wyoming Arts Council Board and has performed at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.
“Our parents have always really pushed us to be involved with organizations having an impact on our ranch and other ranches out West,” says Meghan.
Caring for the land
Pat and Sharon challenge their family to think outside of the box and keep an open mind when it comes to ranch management and conservation efforts.
“To be successful in agriculture, you have to be flexible and willing to change,” says Meghan. “We try new things every year. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but we move forward.”
Conservation is a huge aspect of the ranch. The ranch participates in the Sage Grouse Initiative, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. They also practice rotational grazing.
“Conservation is what sustains the whole operation – without the land, none of it works,” says Eamon. “We try to take care of the land, and in return, we expect it to take care of us.”
Eamon and Meghan hope to continue passing the ranch down to family members.
“My biggest goal is to be able to pass this on,” says Eamon. “It’s ultimately a business, and we want to pass a healthy business on to the next generation.”
Meghan agrees, saying, “In reality, we have no goal but keeping this all together and passing it on to the next generation as it was done to us.”
For more information, visit ladderranch.com.
Kaitlyn Root is an editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.