How Do I Become a Rancher?

Ranches have many purposes. Some raise animals such as cattle or sheep for food production, while others raise and care for horses for commercial purposes. Whatever their focus, ranches require a range of different staff to fulfill duties and ensure that the entire operation runs smoothly. At the helm of the business is one or more ranchers.

Ranchers breed and raise livestock either on ranches that they own themselves, or that they supervise on behalf of the owner. For many people, becoming a rancher is more than just a career choice, it is a way of life. However, this doesn’t mean that you can simply walk into the role. There is a lot more to being a rancher than you might expect.

Ranchers vs. Cowboys

Confusion between what constitutes a rancher, and what makes a cowboy is fairly common. Cowboy skills are a definite art – after all it takes knowledge and experience to handle cattle well. However, cowboy skills are definitely not the same as those required by a rancher. This is because being a rancher is a definite management role, and this requires a range of different abilities.

Important Ranching Skills

A rancher needs to possess a whole spectrum of different skills, including:

Understanding finances and economics. This may not be the most enjoyable part of the role, but a good sense of economics is essential if the ranch is to be profitable.

People skills. Although your ranch may be located in the middle of the countryside and you may only have a handful of staff, you will still need to be able to communicate effectively and motivate and manage your team.

  • Understanding the equipment and machinery required, including how to use it, maintain it, repair it and teach others how to safely use it.
  • Managing resources. As a rancher you will need to obtain and oversee the appropriate use of equipment, materials and facilities used in running the ranch.
  • Reading comprehension and writing. Even ranching requires paperwork, and a rancher will need to understand exactly what they are reading and writing.
  • Critical thinking. A rancher must use logic and reasoning to identify and solve problems that may occur.
  • Time management.

Education and Training

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most ranchers have at least a High School Diploma. A HSD is also necessary if you wish to access higher education.

Further education is always useful when it comes to obtaining your dream job, and the greater your knowledge, the more likely you are to be able to obtain a well-paid position. Although degrees are not compulsory, the majority of ranchers’ complete bachelor’s degree programs in agriculture, animal health management or similar, as this gives them a solid foundation of knowledge.

Many community colleges offer associate degree programs in ranch management, conservation, animal care, business management and even agricultural economics.

Certification

If you hold a bachelor’s degree and have at least four solid years of related work experience, you may be eligible for certification through the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

Work experience

Hand-on experience is considered just as important as a good education, and you should start by getting a position on a family-owned farm or ranch as soon as you are able. Many ranches offer apprenticeships, and this can be a good alternative route to gaining employment as a rancher if going on to higher education is not possible. Many professional ranchers have worked their way up from entry-level work, so it is not impossible to attain your chosen career this way.

How much can I expect to earn?

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, ranchers and other similar agricultural managers earned a median annual salary of $64,170. However, as with many careers, this salary is largely subject to education and experience. The more relevant training you have, the greater the salary you may be able to command.