Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The great variation in elevation (from 600 meters at the deepest point in the vast Mezquital Canyon to 3,250 meters at the crown of Cerro Gordo) produces a great variation in plants and wildlife. The choices of cultivable crops are extremely limited because of the lack of water and topsoil; another determinent is the rugged terrain cut by two deep rivers, which flow southward through Nayarit into the Pacific. Deep canyons create different ecosystems and dictate the types of crops that can be grown. Pine and hardwood forests cover high plateaus. Deep valleys, with hot, dry climates and tropical flora and fauna in the lowlands alternate with the higher, temperate zones that experience heavy rainfall in the summer and frost in winter.
Agriculture and pastoralism are the main economic resources, although the lumber industry has made a minor contribution since about 1980. Maize, beans, and two kinds of squash are the traditionally cultivated crops and remain the dietary staples, given that the rocky mountains and the scarcity of water leave only a trifling amount of arable land and permit little diversification. Despite the importance of maize as a dietary staple, the Southern Tepehuan do not grow sufficient quantities to feed themselves. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, it was reported that cotton was grown for ceremonial purposes, but this practice has been abandoned. Heavy on tortillas, beans, cheese, and other farm products that need no irrigation, the Tepehuan diet is fortified by a good deal of gathered foods. These include roots, wild tubers, fruits, greens, and mushrooms. The constraints of the land greatly impinge both on the economy and on patterns of settlement and migration.
Along with the pines that support the lumber industry are banana, plum, and avocado trees that are native to the area, as well as the introduced apple and peach species. Also in the more tropical areas are found mangos and guayabo fruits. Most families keep chickens. Cattle and goats are fairly common, and an accumulation of them is a mark of wealth. Other domesticated animals include sheep, turkeys, pigs, horses, and donkeys. Hunting and fishing are less important today than in the past. Firearms for hunting are luxuries that not many can afford. Cattle and most available wild game, such as deer, are saved for ceremonial use.
Trade. The Southern Tepehuan engage in a modest amount of trade and commerce. Fruits, livestock, maize, and mescal are brought to Mexican markets for sale or trade. Household goods such as cloth, cooking utensils, and tools are procured at occasional market outings.
Division of Labor. These trading ventures and most other economic matters are the exclusive domain of males. For the most part, the division of labor by gender falls along the same lines as that of the Northern Tepehuan. Men perform the heavy farm and forestry work, and women maintain the home, weaving clothing and household items from wool, cotton, and maguey fiber and participating in the harvest. At a very young age, children begin to herd goats and cattle. Labor exchange occurs within extended families, and communal labor is required for certain tasks, especially during communal rituals.