Livestock Rancher: Job Description, Duties and Requirements
Livestock ranchers breed and sell animals for food items, such as meat, eggs and dairy products. Most U.S. ranchers are self-employed. Although there are no formal education requirements, a college degree is becoming increasingly important for success in the field.
Livestock Rancher Job Description
Most ranches are family operated; larger ranches hire full-time and seasonal workers to help. Livestock ranchers own or rent the land on which they breed, raise and sell animals. Products vary for each ranch depending on the geographic location, climate and space available. Cattle, pigs and poultry are a few of the animals raised for food. Sheep and goats are raised for wool and dairy products.
The salaries of ranchers are directly linked to the success of the ranch, and they fluctuate depending on the weather, variations in feed prices and the market value of animal products. Livestock ranchers work year-round and are often unable to take vacations. In some areas where ranching is a common lifestyle, neighbors help each other with certain larger tasks like cattle branding and moving, or assist when emergencies such as wildfires occur.
The duties of ranchers depend upon the size and type of ranch they operate. Some livestock ranchers who run large operations focus solely on the business end, leaving the actual care and feed of animals to others, while those who run smaller ranches may have a hand in all of the operations.
Ranchers must keep detailed financial records and be active in the marketing and sale of their products. They use computer technology, such as financial spreadsheets and databases, in order to manage much of the ranch business. They also must negotiate with financial institutions in order to obtain loans for purchase of livestock, machinery and other necessary items. They may attend ranching conferences in order to exchange information and learn new skills. Those who hire employees are responsible for setting policies, ensuring efficiency and keeping salary and scheduling information.
Making sure that the livestock is fed, given water, kept in humane living conditions and successfully reproducing are all part of a rancher's duties. Additional duties that ranchers may oversee or perform include assisting in the birth of animals, castrating, shearing, docking, dehorning, branding or tagging. A few ranchers butcher their own meat for sale, but most sell whole livestock to be butchered elsewhere. Some dairy ranchers may choose to make their own dairy products, such as cheese, butter and milk.
Although there are no formal education requirements for becoming a rancher, there is much to learn, from how to care for animals and operate machinery to hiring employees and marketing products. Some people attend college to learn these skills, while others gain firsthand knowledge of ranch operation by working under experienced ranchers or on family farms.
Numerous trade and vocational schools, colleges and universities offer associate and bachelor's degrees in agriculture. Programs allow students to specialize in subjects such as ranch and feedlot operations or agricultural business. Students learn about ranch management, principles of feeding and care, animal and meat marketing, new ranching technology and animal health. Apprenticeships in ranching are also available which teach about ranching through hands-on experience.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Ranchers, farmers and other agricultural managers earned an annual median salary of $69,300 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A moderate decline of 8% was expected for these jobs, from 2010-2020, the BLS projected.
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