Collins Ranch

Cow-calf operation with rotational grazing

The Ranch

Collins Ranch is located in southeastern Colorado, six miles west of the town of Kit Carson. This area is one of the largest contiguous grasslands in the region and is known for its extensive ranching history. Collins Ranch was founded in 1907 and has survived multiple droughts, fires, and market downturns by being both an environmentally and business conscious operation. The business is currently owned and operated by Toby and Amy Johnson.

Collins Ranch is made up of over 33,000 acres that is split into approximately 92 pastures or paddocks. The ranch headquarters, which we refer to as C- (C bar) sits on the banks of Sand Creek, a dry creek bottom. This parcel consists of roughly 7,000 acres. On this location we raise our future bulls and calve out our first-calf heifers. There is an additional ranch location, located about ten miles southwest of the ranch headquarters where Rush Creek, a dry creek, meanders through.  Rush Creek Ranch consists of approximately 26,000 acres and this is where we raise our replacement heifers and graze our two main cow herds. Throughout both locations, C- and Rush Creek, we place an emphasis on rotational grazing moving herds every 4-7 days, allowing for a minimum of  90 days rest. We aim to rest a handful of pastures for a minimum of one calendar year.

Collins Ranch is in the land and livestock business and it has long been a belief that we are grass farmers first and cattle ranchers second. With the quality stewardship of our natural assets being our main focus, we strive to leave the grasslands we call home, better than we find them every year. We accomplish this through strict grazing strategies and effective management of our cowherd. Being a member of the Collins Ranch team will entail grazing management; upkeep of fences, corrals, and machinery; and animal doctoring and husbandry.

Collins Ranch is owned by Toby & Amy Johnson and their three children, Brad, Haley & Tess. Currently Tess is a freshman at CU Boulder.  Haley is in graduate school, also at CU Boulder.  Brad, the eldest, is married and is working and living in Littleton, Colorado.  Brad is also a part time employee and helps with the business operations of the ranch.  Toby and Amy live in the main 115-year-old adobe ranch house at the C- headquarters. The headquarters is the place where most visitors to the ranch come, so it is important to us to keep the facilities and equipment clean and organized, the lawns mowed, and the general area presentable and professional.



Regenerative Practices

  • Strong emphasis on rotational grazing and moving herds to new pastures every 4-7 days
  • Aim for a minimum of 90-100 days of rest during the growing season for each pasture
  • Continuous upkeep of fences to improve efficiency of grazing plans
  • Strive for multiple water and mineral sources in each pasture to spread out livestock impact
  • Work with a hunting outfit to build long-term conservation strategies for the wildlife located on the ranch
  • Utilize the grazing application PastureMap+ to plan seasonal grazing and record historical grazing patterns 
  • Move cattle to crop residue in the winter months to give native range a rest
  • Monitor grassland health by recording forage notes and taking annual photo points


The Mentors

While Toby grew up in this rural environment, where there are more cows than people, Amy has had a much different upbringing, she grew up in Bethesda, Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C. and would have never guessed she would end up living her life on the western prairie, but it is most certainly her home now. Amy met Toby at Colorado College, and after receiving a BA in World Political Economy, she went on to work for Deloitte and Touche in Dallas, Texas and then Communication Arts in Boulder, Colorado. Toby and Amy married on the ranch in 1995 and since then Amy has spent the last 28 years helping Toby on the ranch. She now manages the accounting, grazing, and inventory of the ranch but is also not afraid to get her hands dirty and perform outside tasks with the rest of the cow bosses. While most days will be out on the ranch with Toby, there will also be days with Amy out on the ranch or in the office learning about Pasturemap+, grazing planning, inventory management, and ranch data and analysis.

Other Personnel: There are also other ranch savvy day workers and employees who would be able to work with you on certain tasks such as roping, doctoring animals, or other ranch maintenance tasks. These individuals will be able to share valuable ranch lessons and stories.

Toby & Amy Johnson

As the manager of the ranch Toby Johnson will be the key mentor. Toby is the fourth generation, born and raised on Collins Ranch.  After graduating from high school in Kit Carson Toby went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in economics from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Toby then gained a few valuable years of business experience at Merrill Lynch in Denver. He went on to attend the intensive nine month Ranch Management School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.  Toby returned to manage the ranch in 1994 and has spent the last 29 years fine tuning the genetics, grazing management, and animal husbandry practices of the ranch.  Toby has furthered his ranching education by attending the Ranching for Profit school, the Dick Diven low cost cow/calf school, the Bud Williams Stockmanship school and the Holistic Resource Management School along with countless cattle seminars throughout the years on grazing, economics, herd health, and drought management.  Toby is a lifelong learner in the industry and is always reading new books and magazine articles, listening to podcasts and engaging fellow ranchers in emerging industry trends and research.  Toby also sits on the Colorado Livestock Association Board along with the Cheyenne County Cattlemen group, the Farm Bureau board and he is a member of the Kit Carson School Board.

Most of the day-to-day work and learning will be with Toby. Toby will help guide you through ranch work from long term projects to day to day maintenance and upkeep of cattle and infrastructure.  This work will include; readying pastures for the next cattle moves, safe and effective herd moves, working with first calf heifers during calving, calving problems and birthing methods, feed and nutrition of the cattle, fencing upkeep and maintenance, water pipelines and tanks, and all other ranch tasks. Toby will help teach individuals how to ride a horse or 4-wheeler, operate ranch machinery, and work safely around the livestock. Toby is extremely patient and a great listener, and has worked with many employees over the years from seasoned cow-hands to folks that have never worked with cattle before.  

The Apprentice

What will an apprentice do?

A day out with Toby may consist of moving a group of cows on horseback or ATV, fixing a water tank or windmill, or assembling a new electric fence for a new grazing strategy. You may work with Amy on recordkeeping and planning grazing strategies. The ranching business is a very seasonal business where daily tasks must be repeated, it is also an industry where problems or issues may arise that will completely change the day or week’s intended purpose. Staying diligent during the monotonous tasks such as repairing fence or preg checking cattle is needed but apprentices are also expected to stay versatile and be willing to perform a new task at a moment’s notice. For example, one moment you may be building fence when you get a call that you need to saddle up to gather the bulls that are out in a neighbor’s pasture.

What skills and traits are required in an apprentice?

  • Team minded individual
  • Willing to work and live by oneself
  • Able to perform physical labor, lift objects, and be able to stay on one’s feet for a large portion of the day
  • Observant and willing to ask questions about our ranching system and operation
  • Positive attitude on early mornings, late evenings, and long work days
  • Self starter and willing to take on tasks when mentors had to break away to deal with another issue
  • Not needed, but helpful if apprentice is comfortable on a horse

Skills that An Apprentice would expect to acquire:

  • The ability to safely operate and maintain heavy equipment.
    • Trucks, tractors, motorcycles, ATVs
  • The care, doctoring, and feeding of cattle and horses.
  • Fencing basics on barbed wire fences and temporary electric fences.
  • How to assess the pasture for condition and quality and when to move livestock
  • How to work PastureMap+ ( grazing and inventory tracking software)
  • How to move, work, sort, and load cows, on foot and horseback.
  • Understanding the basics of a beef business, if interested

Working for Collins Ranch you will develop horsemanship and livestock skills, such as moving, doctoring, and sorting cows on horseback. You will also learn about building electric fences and improving barb wire fences as we continue to develop more rotational grazing practices on our ranches. Pasture inventory rides and grazing planning will occur often, so you will learn how we decide to move through pasture rotations, and why it is needed.

Nuts & Bolts


Start Date: Ideal start date is April 2023 (before calving season starts) and the ideal end date November 15th, 2023 (after the herds are shipped to winter grazing).  Dates are somewhat flexible.

Length of Apprenticeship: 7+ months, however we do try to be as flexible as we can with whatever time constraints that you may have.

Stipend: Pay is calculated at $15/hour and a 40 hour week can be expected, though hours tend to differ from a typical 9-5 workday. Housing, utilities, and internet are included with the internship. Pay will be paid bi-monthly.

General work hours: We begin our days at 8am (though this is flexible depending on what ranch tasks are needed for the day). Often the day will start with horse/feeding chores. Each week will bring different tasks depending on the season. Most weeks will include a ranch project, or an electric fence build day, or a ride out to move cows. The days are varied as it goes with ranching, and the priority is always the animals. We aim for the day to wrap up around 4:30pm, but it may go later, especially in the busy first 3 weeks of calving. In early May things will be focused on calving. After the spring calving season, we are getting ready for brandings in late June and then onto the general summer schedule of moving cattle and fencework.  We begin the artificial insemination (AI) process in our yearling heifers in July and this includes several work days leading up to the official AI day sometime during the first week in August.  All summer we focus on grazing patterns and adjusting as necessary due to rainfall and cattle workdays needed. We precondition calves in late September and then wean and ship calves in late October, pregnancy checking the cows that same time. By the end of the apprenticeship, November, we are moving cattle off the ranch to corn stalks.

Housing: Housing is provided in a modest ranch bunkhouse at the ranch headquarters. The bunkhouse has a kitchen, washer and dryer, 3 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. Toby and Amy will be your neighbors at headquarters, but you will have the bunkhouse to yourself.

Internet availability: WiFi will be available in the bunkhouse, we also have a Verizon tower within a half mile of our house, so service with that provider is good. 

Cell Service:  Service is good at the ranch headquarters but is spotty when out on the ranch. Verizon (see above) and AT&T are the best providers.

Time off: Saturday and Sunday will be days off. Occasionally as it goes with ranch work, there will be days where certain work needs to be completed on a weekend. If apprentices are needed on weekends we can try to make up that time off another day if the work allows. If you ever were to want/need time off for a trip away, we can definitely do our best to accommodate. We just ask for a heads up so we can plan ahead.

Visitors: Apprentice will be allowed to have visitors, however, try to plan it with your mentor just in case there are important ranch jobs that may not be suitable for visitors.

Food: No meals will be provided (30 minute lunch break during work day for you to return to your house and cook/eat). Ground beef and some other cuts of beef will be provided from our home raised beef.

Pets: We have three dogs that are not used to other dogs. If apprentice has a dog, we may be able to accommodate, but we would need to discuss this in advance in order to keep all dogs and livestock on the ranch safe.

Horse Use: We will move cattle on horseback at times, so while we can teach you to ride and work on your horsemanship while you are here, it would be helpful if you are a comfortable rider.

All the fun stuff: Tobacco and alcohol use in moderation are permitted at your housing area/in your off time.

Guns: Guns are allowed, but please make us aware of their presence if they will not be locked up or will be used on the ranch.

Health insurance: The ranching lifestyle has inherent dangers. While personal health insurance is not required to participate in the apprenticeship program, it is strongly encouraged. We carry Workmen’s Compensation to cover injuries that occur while on the job, though we strongly encourage safe behavior at all times and hope such an incident will not occur.

Ranch Vehicles: Apprentice will use ranch vehicles and machinery for work.

Personal Vehicle:  A personal vehicle is highly recommended for apprentice independence on their time off and to get to town for free time activities/errands. It is six miles to the nearest town and conveniences, and over an hour to communities with a Safeway or Wal-Mart.

Additional items an apprentice should bring: Durable footwear. If you will ride horses, investing in a pair of riding boots would be a good option, in addition hiking boots or more comfortable work shoes are recommended. Work gloves for fencing etc are also important to have. A quality pocket knife is always handy on the ranch. Eastern Colorado can cool down during summer nights and especially into the fall so you’ll want a few good jackets and sweaters, but most of the summer we are in the 80’s and 90’s and can get over 100. Bring sunscreen and sunglasses. If you have certain kitchen/house items you like we recommend bringing them, but there are kitchen supplies. Bedding can be provided, but bring your own if you like. Please bring your own towels.

Living at Collins Ranch:

  • Grocery shopping: Katie’s Korner is a small grocery store that provides the basic necessities in Kit Carson (6 miles away) then there is a Safeway and Wal-Mart in Lamar. A 60-minute drive from the ranch.
  • Dining: There is one restaurant in Kit Carson, a 10 minute drive from the ranch.  Otherwise the city of Lamar is a 60 minute drive and has plenty of dining options.
  • Entertainment: Neighboring towns have various summer activities such as softball leagues, golf courses, etc. And while there are a handful of community events such as county fairs and mid-summer concerts most of the time at the ranch is quiet and peaceful.

Quivira Coalition Activities: This apprenticeship is offered through Quivira Coalition’s New Agrarian Program. The full cohort of apprentices on regenerative ranches and farms across the west will attend an April orientation, participate in supplemental education Zoom calls, complete skills checklists with their mentors, and attend the annual REGENERATE Conference in November. Apprentices are also required to write several reports during their apprenticeship that will be posted in the New Agrarian Voices blog on the Quivira website.