Ladder Ranch - From Pioneer Enterprise to Conservation Ranch

The Ladder Ranch is a working sheep, cattle and hay ranch headquartered along the Colorado-Wyoming border, northwest of Steamboat Springs, Colorado and east of Savery, Wyoming. The operation has evolved from a survival mode pioneer enterprise to a significant production and conservation ranch.

Established in 1881 by A.W. and Anna Louise Salisbury near the confluence of the Little Snake River and Battle Creek, Ladder Ranch has been home to six generations, raising cattle, sheep, horses, dogs and children.

The O’Toole and Lally families are the current stewards of the Ladder Ranch. Family members are taught to keep one eye on the livestock and one eye on the landscape. One does not do well without the responsible management of the other. This is the resource ethic that family members try to pass down through the generations. George Salisbury used to say, “Natural resources are too important to be managed generically—they must be managed specifically.”

Wendell Berry, farmer, author and really thoughtful guy, said “The most insistent and formidable concern of agriculture, wherever it is taken seriously, is the distinctive individuality of every farm, every field on every farm, every farm family, and every creature on every farm.”

Pat and Sharon O’Toole say, “This is our philosophy and goal, which must be attained anew each day. In an operation as complex and far-flung as ours, we must try to pay attention to each landscape, each animal, each family member, each employee, and each new rule and regulation. This is a constant challenge, because something is always happening somewhere.

“Overall, we strive to leave the land in good shape, while adapting to weather, economic conditions and the overall health of the animals which we husband. It is a constant balancing act. When we don’t succeed, it’s not because we are not trying, and we learn and adjust.

“It is our goal to care for our land, livestock and the people who are part of this landscape. It is our goal to teach future generations how to extend such care. It is our goal to achieve this in an economically viable manner, which is key to all of the above.”

The O’Tooles run the balanced cattle and sheep operation with son Eamon, daughter Meghan and their spouses. Daughter Bridget and her husband help with marketing. The family also raises Quarter horses, Border collies and livestock guardian dogs, and operates a ranch recreation business. Six grandchildren, ages six to fourteen, also make Ladder Ranch their home.

Conservation stewardship has always been important to the family, beginning with a rotational grazing system using private and public lands in the 1950s. The family has implemented beneficial river projects with Wyoming Game and Fish, Little Snake River Conservation District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners Program. These integrate the fishery and the irrigation system. 

They also work to protect and enhance habitat for Greater sage grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse. The ranch is home to a Wyoming Audubon Important Bird Area and provides critical winter range to deer and elk. Numerous species of wildlife, from bats to bees, also find healthy habitat on private and public lands managed by the Ladder Ranch family.

With a goal of giving future generations an opportunity to work the land and protect their beloved landscape and its wild and domestic inhabitants, the O’Tooles are involved in their community.

Pat served in the Wyoming Legislature and is presently the President of the Family Farm Alliance, which represents western irrigators.” He is also an advisory board member for AGree, a national think-tank that grapples with food and ag policy issues in an international arena. He is a Board Member for the Intermountain West Joint Venture, which advocates for migratory birds, and the Partners for Conservation.

All the mountain ranchlands are under Conservation Easement, The Nature Conservancy is their easement holder in Wyoming and Colorado Cattlemen's Land Trust in Colorado. Ladder Ranch was alo the Leopold/Wyoming Stock Growers Conservation Award winners in 2014.

Sharon actively advocates for agriculture and natural resources through her blog at, and writes on agriculture and natural resource issues for regional and national publications.

Pat and Sharon’s daughter Meghan Lally was the youngest member to serve on the Wyoming Board of Agriculture, serves on the local Conservation District Board and is the Chairman of the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council. Son Eamon O’Toole represents young producers for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and serves on the Board of the American Farmland Trust