ArcNews Online

Spring 2003
Search ArcNews

E-mail to a Friend
Cattle Ranch Owner/Operator Uses a Host of GIS Applications, Educates Fellow Ranchers

A Montana Rancher Knows GIS Makes a Difference

  click to see enlargement
By dividing the landscape into two slopes (with west black and east blue) and overlaying the Dalmation Toadflax points on the aspect, a correlation is evident. Most of the plants seem to be growing on the east slopes.

"I'm a cattle rancher, which means, basically, grass is my crop," says Robert Rumney, owner and operator of a mid-sized, 4,000-acre ranch in Montana. "The better the grass, the healthier the cattle, the better the ranch."

Rumney has owned and operated his ranch since joining his father in 1981, when Rumney senior opted to move from owner to full-time employee; he works on the ranch full time even today. Rumney's son, the youngest of the Rumneys, attends college and works on the ranch during summers.

Aside from the Rumneys, the ranch employs just a few hands during the harvest season. Yet based on the level of GIS activity on his ranch, you might think Rumney employs a full GIS staff.

a Garmin GPS in use
A Garmin GPS is mounted on the handle of a backpack sprayer for use in rough terrain.

"I taught myself to use the software four years ago and use it now just about every day," says Rumney. "Now I can't ever imagine not using it."

Today Rumney deploys an advanced suite of GIS applications that can serve as a model for others to follow.

Using ArcView, GPS, and other desktop mapping applications, Rumney's ranch is run with the kind of high-tech efficiency his father could only dream about when he first acquired the ranch in the 1960s.

The Importance of a Good Ranch Pasture

For Rumney and other cattle ranchers, ensuring that pastures are as rich as possible--whether for raising one's own cattle or harvesting and selling the grass to other ranchers--is a full-time Business.

All areas of pastureland must be assessed for landscaping needs and proper health. Whether it's removing weeds, applying fertilizers or insecticides, or assessing good and poor pasture areas, data collection is a must.

For Rumney, the past meant every season going back out into the field to collect information using paper and pencil. When the property was originally purchased years ago, a single paper map depicted basic property and fence lines. Over the years, other information was hand drawn on the map.

  click to see enlargement
Shown in red is the track taken when looking for weeds in the fields. The shapefiles are laid over a USGS topo map.

In 1998, however, things would change dramatically. Rumney participated in a four-day GIS workshop. He was helping his son, then a sophomore in high school, use GIS for a science project. During his instruction, Rumney envisioned application areas where he could use the basic GIS tools and techniques he was learning for his son's science project and use them on his own ranch.

Shortly thereafter, he acquired ArcView. He quickly put the software to work.

Using a mobile Garmin GPS unit, Rumney spent a good deal of time collecting data in the field. He collected soil types, roads, fence lines, vegetation, slope, topography, and other data by day and uploaded the data into the GIS by night. For rougher terrain areas, he mounted a GPS unit on the handle of an all terrain vehicle.

Soon, he had developed a rich database, and the real analysis could be done. He managed and processed agronomic data layers into meaningful maps and reports.

Dalmation Toadflax

Rumney went into the field with his GPS unit mounted on the handle of a backpack sprayer and looked for weeds such as Dalmatian Toadflax. Shapefiles containing all the locations of weeds were overlaid on USGS TOPO maps. Rumney was then able to go directly to the right location for weed removal. Now he had an automated method for storing information so the following season he'd know the locations to look for weeds based on previous experience. He had created a time stamp of spatial information.

For example, with ArcView 3D Analyst, Rumney performed modeling analysis. He mapped the ranch into two slopes and overlaid Dalmatian Toadflax points. Based on this, a correlation was evident: most of the weed plants seemed to be growing on the east slopes possibly because windborne seeds were deposited to those areas. With a better picture of weed locations, better mitigation could take place.

"The next year after the first data collection, we knew exactly where to go and why," says Rumney. "We didn't have to worry about missing any areas."

The Seeds of GIS Yield High Results

  click to see enlargement
In this 3D comparison, all of the data for the model in the upper image was gathered with a Garmin GPS.

GIS quickly grew to be a tool used for a host of application areas. Whether mapping ranch areas, applying for water rights, or creating 3D aspect maps, GIS became an everyday tool.

For example, every few years applications must be submitted to reapply for water rights. To do this, maps need to be generated depicting headgates, irrigation ditches, and spring developments in relation to waterways. GIS helps speed the application process because, with just a few clicks of a mouse, maps showing the right data layers are easily generated. The wheel no longer needs to be reinvented each time.

In another instance, in the state of Montana it's not uncommon to get a knock on the door from an outdoorsman wanting to know where hunting areas begin and end in relation to a person's property.

"We can provide a map and show where a hunter can and can't go for hunting," says Rumney. "It's a lot better than pointing outside and saying, 'go here but don't go there.'"

Since first acquiring GIS, Rumney has not only used GIS on his own ranch, but he's also teaching his neighbors about the benefits GIS holds for them. "I really enjoy showing people how to use the software," says Rumney.

In addition, he says the state's abundance of free data makes his job a lot easier.

For more information, contact Robert Rumney, Rumney Cattle Company (tel.: 406-468-2593, e-mail: or Max Crandall, Esri agriculture industry manager (909-793-2853, ext. 1-2309; e-mail:

Contact Us | Privacy | Legal | Site Map