Getting Started At Ranching [As A Ranch Hand]

Ranching is a big industry in the United States and in many countries around the world. If you have wondered how to become a cattle rancher, there are a couple of avenues open to you. Many cattle ranchers begin by simply inheriting the family business, but that doesn’t have to be the only way. It is also possible to start small as a farmer or homesteader and gradually add to your landholdings and stock until you are a bonafide rancher. Another way of getting started is to become a ranch hand and work your way up.

In this article, we focus on the skills, abilities and experience necessary to get your start in ranching as a ranch hand. Read on to learn more on how to become a ranch hand.

What Is A Ranch Hand?

what is a ranch hand

You may hear ranch hands referred to as:

  • Cowpoke
  • Barn help
  • Hired hand

By any name, a ranch hand must perform a great many duties. He or she must be ready to perform tasks as needed from day to day and season to season. A ranch hands tasks may include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Repair and maintenance
  • Dealing with jackrabbits
  • Agricultural duties
  • Animal husbandry
  • Delivering calves
  • Building fences
  • Fertilizing crops
  • Herding cattle
  • Riding horses

A successful ranch hand must know a little or a lot about every aspect of maintaining and running a large ranch.

How To Become A Ranch Hand

If you want to be a ranch hand, you will probably need to have a GED or high school diploma. Additionally, first-hand experience at ranch work is desirable. Even so, there are some ranchers who will provide on-the-job training.

There are also ranchers who require that ranch hands have some formal training in ranch work, such as classes in animal husbandry and agriculture.

No matter what your education and background, it’s a given that you must have a basic understanding of:

  • Agricultural science
  • Handyman skills
  • Animal care

These are the basic skills that you must have to be a successful ranch hand. Furthermore, you must be a good horseback rider. Added skills such as roping can be extremely valuable.

Is A Ranch Hand The Same As A Cowboy?

Cowboys are typically people who drive and herd cattle, usually on horseback. This job description hardly exists anymore.

Ranch hands today do not usually drive cattle on horseback. Their tasks typically involve repair and maintenance, animal husbandry, crop care and other tasks that go into the maintenance and management of the ranch.

How Handy Are You?

A well versed ranch hand should be able to do the following and more:

  • Perform minor repairs on heavy machinery
  • Care for and maintain all equipment
  • Mow yards, lawns and pastures
  • Maintain irrigation systems
  • Collect and chop firewood
  • Manage and seed pastures
  • Operate heavy machinery
  • Run haying equipment
  • Operate a snowplow
  • Control weeds
  • Mend fences
  • Build fences

As a ranch hand, you’ll need to know how to fix machinery, build and mend fences, care for crops and animals and much more. You may see ranch and work advertised as Jack of all trades.

What Sorts Of Certification Does A Ranch Hand Need?

what certification does a ranch hand need

It goes without saying that you need to have a valid drivers’ license and a good driving record. You may also need special qualifications for certain types of heavy machinery.

Ranching Isn’t Limited To Cattle

Animals you may need to take care of as a ranch hand include, but are not limited to:

Animal husbandry tasks you may need to perform include, but are not limited to:

  • Preparing for market
  • Supervising breeding
  • Overseeing birthing
  • Monitoring health
  • Vaccinations
  • Grooming
  • Watering
  • Feeding
  • Training

You may need to herd cattle and other livestock, and this means you’ll need to know how to ride a horse well, or you may need to be able to drive an ATV skillfully.

You may need to work or coordinate with the veterinarian to care for sick cattle, or you may need to put ear tags on cattle and other animals or apply electric brands. You may also need to know how to successfully wean calves from their mothers.

What Physical Capabilities Does A Ranch Hand Need?

Being a ranch hand is very hard work. It is also work that you must do day in and day out year-round in all sorts of weather. You must be very strong to be a ranch hand.

Most job descriptions require that you be able to lift a minimum of 100 pounds. You must also be able to carry 45 pounds in a backpack for a full eight hours. As a ranch hand, you may need to hike long distances. You may also need to be able to ride on horseback all day.

What Does A Ranch Hand’s Schedule Look Like?

how much does a rancher make

As a ranch hand, your chores change from one season to the next, so your physical challenges will vary. No matter what the season, you’ll typically start your day at sunrise and end it at dusk. This means that you may have shorter days during the wintertime.

In the springtime, you’ll start to have long days and busy days. Spring is when calves are born, it’s also when crops are planted.

In caring for calves, you may need to oversee birthing, separate the calves from the cows at the appropriate time and move both around from one pasture to another as needed. You’ll need to provide feed and hay daily.

While managing the cattle, you’ll also need to begin plowing and seeding the fields.

Late in the springtime, you’ll need to perform any branding duties that are necessary.

Spring and summer are also the times when outbuildings and fences are built and mended. Late in the summer, you’ll begin getting the irrigation system ready for winter. You’ll need to maintain pipes and ditches and repair as needed.

During the summer time, you’ll need to herd your cattle from one pasture to another more frequently as the grass dries up. This is important to prevent overgrazing.

Summertime is also the time to cut hay. The haying season means lots of cleaning, maintenance and repair on haying equipment. At the end of the haying season, you’ll do a final cleanup of the equipment and get it stored away for the fall and winter.

In the autumn, you begin getting the ranch ready for winter. You finalize repairs, make sure that all the calves are weaned and eating independently, and begin pregnancy testing cows and giving them the right vaccinations to get through the winter months.

Autumn is the time to collect and chop wood, and you may need to continue collecting and chopping wood through the winter. In the wintertime, you’ll take care of basic chores and also take care of repairs and maintenance that can be done inside.

In the winter, you must still feed and water all the livestock. You’ll need to also check and repair fences as needed throughout the winter months.

Ranch Hands: Laura Mowery

How Much Money Can A Ranch Hand Make?

The salary for ranch hand is actually fairly low, ranging from $20,000 to $35,000 annually. The exact amount will vary depending on where the ranch is and what the duties are.

A very large ranch may also provide benefits such as health insurance. Additionally, ranch hands often have perks such as free room and board. On the other hand, some ranch hands are required to pay for room and board.

How Can I Find A Job As A Ranch Hand?

A good place to start looking is a job board such as Additionally, you may want to look at the websites of large ranches. Many of these have a help wanted page.

When you look at ads for ranch hand work, you’ll find that you’ll need to have your GED or high school diploma along with appropriate experience and training.

Being a ranch hand is a physically and mentally challenging job. It can also be a difficult job to obtain. When you set out to find a job as a ranch hand, you’ll need to establish a skill set that includes animal husbandry and agricultural experience.

If this is not been a part of your natural upbringing, you’ll need to take appropriate courses at your local community college or gain some volunteer experience to gain the skills you need.

1 thought on “Getting Started At Ranching [As A Ranch Hand]”

  1. It looks fun, but being a rancher is not a job for everyone. You have to work a lot and need a lot of “technical” skills actually.


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