AgricultureEducationLand Investor FeaturesLand Investor GuideVolume 4

Different Roles Found On A Ranch

By Dan Leahy, DL Resource Management, LLC

There are many different potential roles on a property. Your exact needs will be determined by the type of property you own and its features and uses. The successful operation of a property, whether it’s a farm or a ranch, starts with making sure you have the right people for your property’s particular requirements.

The ranch hand typically has a collection of duties such as checking herds, fence building, some equipment operation, hand irrigation, mucking out stalls, and landscaping. This is a task-level worker who can cover many of the basics.

A herdsman has specific skills that are acquired with years of learning and doing. Purebred stock operations benefit most from a dedicated herdsman. Some smaller or commercial cattle operations will not require a dedicated herdsman. This is a very specialized position, which means the person may not be qualified or available for more general management duties.

Ranches require electricians, equipment maintenance and repair, plumbers, welder-fabricators, and even ‘chemists’ who are responsible for the use of herbicides (which are regulated). A busy and productive operation will require all these trade skills. If subcontractors are not readily available (or are too costly), a ranch mechanic must be employed. It is possible to find one person with basic or better skills in each area, but the true ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ is not common these days. Mechanics are task-level employees that may not be able to work as a general ranch hand or with livestock. A good mechanic is best with his hands and tools, and general management may not be his strong suit.

Let’s not confuse farming with ranching. They often go together, but they are distinctly different activities. Can a ranch hand drive a swather? Of course. But will he also know what crops to plant and when? Or when to harvest or market them? A farmer may have a very specific set of skills and knowledge that many ranch hands will not have, and vice versa. Of course, it is ideal to find someone with a multitude of skills if your property is being managed for multiple uses.

There are endless possible needs for these types of workers, and what you may need is dictated by the way a property is put together, what it includes, and how it is organized to operate. Consider that managing for wildlife and environmental stewardship requires additional knowledge and experience to reach goals set by the owner or by regulatory agencies with interest in your land and operation.

A foreman excels at one thing: getting things done. He is an effective supervisor of all the types of workers discussed above. Workers need leadership and direction, and a good foreman can provide this. The most effective foreman works right alongside his ranch team and will do anything you need. A smaller or less complex property simply might not warrant a true ranch manager. If you prefer to refer to your foreman as ‘ranch manager,’ that’s fine. Just don’t let the title lead you to make a mistake in hiring someone who is underqualified or overqualified for a job when someone with a different skill set is better suited to it.

A true ranch manager has the unique ability to comprehend the needs of the land in their care and implement the vision of the owner. A good manager assesses, plans, and designs then executes. This is possible because of the reputation and experience he or she brings. A measure of their success is not the absence of challenges on a property but rather how the manager overcomes those challenges. Hoping that an individual will ‘rise to the challenge’ without the clear evidence that they have done it before is not a good bet in any profession. If you have a large and/or complex property, you likely need a ranch manager (especially if you don’t spend much time there).

It is important to identify what roles you should have on your property and find the right people with the right skill sets to fill those roles. Don’t hire a foreman when a manager is needed, and on the flip side, don’t hire a manager when all that is required is a decent foreman. Your property will run much more smoothly if you have the right people working there.

Dan Leahy has managed lands from Texas to Alaska. He specializes in ranch assessments and manager placements. He can be reached at


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