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What does a Rancher do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A rancher manages a ranch, a large facility dedicated to the production of livestock for milk, fiber, or meat. Ranchers typically own their ranches and are supported by a large staff which can include family members who work on the ranch. Ranching can be seen in parts of the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, and Brazil, where large expanses of land are available for ranching.

The origins of ranching appear to lie in Spain, where people have been raising livestock on large plains for centuries. Ranching as a profession grew dramatically with the settling of the New World, which opened up numerous spaces for ranching. Cattle and sheep are among the most commonly ranched animals, and ranchers can also raise horses and more exotic animals such as buffalo or emus.

The rancher supervises the operations of the ranch, deciding which animals to raise, making decisions about breeding stock, and rotating stock through the ranchlands to prevent overgrazing. Ranchers also negotiate leases for neighboring land which they can use for grazing, hire and fire employees who do work on the ranch, and supervise ranch maintenance, from walking fence lines to confirm that the fences are solid to keeping outbuildings in good condition.

In addition to breeding stock, a rancher can also buy stock, with some ranchers focusing on buying young stock and raising it. The rancher can also utilize artificial insemination to bring new bloodlines into the herd, or sell semen from his or her herd so that other ranchers can access the ranch bloodlines. Ranchers are also responsible for organizing the sale of the animal products they produce, whether they are selling cattle to slaughterhouses or selling wool at a farmers' market.

Many ranchers also grow hay and grain on their ranches to support their livestock nutritionally, and to avoid buying feed. Raising feed requires managing the land where the feed is grown, sowing feed at the appropriate time, and maintaining the crop until it is ready for harvest. The rancher is also involved in the health care of the herd, keeping animals healthy and seeking veterinary care when it is appropriate.

Ranchers typically live on site in a ranch house, and the ranch may include housing for employees and family members as well. Ranching is often a family business because it requires a great deal of work and family members are a convenient source of labor, although ranchers can also hire outsiders to supplement the family workers.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By manykitties2 — On Jul 20, 2011

Ranchers have always been a classic figure in television and I remember how often they used to show up in made for TV movies. I think the idea of a hard working man is really captured when you start to think about what a rancher does.

Nowadays so much of our work is office based, and the most lifting a lot of men do these days consists of weights at the gym and the occasional piece of furniture. I think there is a sort of rugged appeal to the man that takes care of animals and keeps a business running that provides resources for a whole community.

The romanticized picture of a rancher is certainly one that I think will stay for many years to come.

By popcorn — On Jul 20, 2011

Visiting a ranch is still possible if you are curious about what a rancher really does. Where I am from they have horse ranches where kids and adults can go for a visit and participate in a sort of camp. These camps let those from the city experience what ranch life is all about.

If you love horses visiting a horse ranch through this kind of camp program can be amazing fun. The ranchers will teach you all about feeding the animals and caring for them. Not only do the ranchers teach you the basics but they also let you in on all the trials and fun times that come with ranch life.

By golf07 — On Jul 19, 2011

I have lived in the country most of my life and enjoy the peace and quiet and the wide open spaces. I have always enjoyed reading about the lives of ranchers and their families.

We receive a monthly magazine that specializes in farmers and ranchers and gives you an inside look at what a day or week in their lives is like. I have a lot of respect for the people who make their living this way.

It is very hard work, and many people don't have any idea what kind of sacrifices they make in order to provide for their families. Not only do they take care of their own families, but also provide food for many other people and their families as well.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 19, 2011

@Monika - That blog sounds like it would make for interesting reading. I'm a city girl, I don't think I would know what to do with myself on a ranch! But I'm always very interested to read about people who live differently than I do.

From what I've heard about ranches, I'm not surprised the gentleman in the blog was running a family ranch. I believe most of the ranches that are left here in the US are family run businesses.

I can imagine the children of a rancher probably feel a lot of pressure to eventually take over the family business. On the one hand, it's great to have a guaranteed job but on the other hand what if they want to do something else?

By Monika — On Jul 18, 2011

@mabeT - If you like that type of romance novel, you may want to do a search for a few blogs that are out there. I stumbled upon one awhile ago about a real live ranch wife in the western United States.

I believe the lady was about to go to law school when she met her future husband, who was a rancher. The ranch had apparently been in his family for a number of years. They fell in love and she decided to forgo law school in favor of marriage to her own personal "Marlboro Man."

By nanny3 — On Jul 17, 2011

@ mabeT- I am a big fan of these kinds of romance novels as well. I’d love to meet ranchers someday to see if they are like the books paint them; handsome, respectful, smart and sexy.

However, I would think that they are probably just like all of the rest of us. They are probably hardworking folks supported by other hardworking folks doing the best that they can.

And, I doubt that they all look like a million bucks in their jeans, but you know at least a couple of them have got to!

By mabeT — On Jul 16, 2011

I personally have never been on a ranch, and do not know any ranchers on a first hand basis. My family and I reside in an area that caters to farmers more so than ranchers. However, I’ve got to say that I feel like I know all about them.

Why would I feel like I have firsthand knowledge of a kind of people I have never before encountered? Two words can help you understand; romance novels.

I typically read very large volumes meant for the smart and the clever, but I must say that sometimes I just want to read something I don’t have to think about.

I simply want to read a book that I know is going to end the right way and that is going to entertain me lazily for many hours of delight. And that is when I turn to some good old Western romance novels.

They all have rugged ranchers and field hands that somehow get their own ranches and make it rich. And while they are doing that they meet the women of their dreams who undoubtedly have daddy issues. Oh, and their daddy is almost always the biggest rancher in the county.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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