Working as a Ranch Hand: Responsibilities and Different Work Environments
Updated January 26, 2023
Ranch hands provide a beneficial service to ranches and agricultural facilities by caring for the animals and managing their structures and resources. If you're hoping to become a ranch hand, it's important to understand the major responsibilities and the experience necessary to pursue the role. In this article, we discuss what working as a ranch hand is like, the different work environments and how to become one using a helpful list of steps.
What is it like working as a ranch hand?
Ranch hands help ranches and farms tend to livestock and ensure the ranching facilities and equipment are operating efficiently. They can live near the ranch and commute to work, or they might live directly on the property. As they care for livestock, ranch hands also help with creating or harvesting animal products, such as milk, wool, eggs and honey. They might also have to understand some agricultural operations and use farming equipment to transport hay, conduct weed control and mow the grass and fields.
Throughout their workday, ranch hands might perform several important responsibilities, including:
Cleaning stalls, pens and other ranch buildings and facilities
Milking animals by hand or through milking machines
Grooming, trimming or shearing livestock to ensure wellness or collect products
Examining animals for illnesses, injuries or other ailments
Driving trucks and tractors to transport goods and distribute feed and seeds
Inspecting and maintaining ranching equipment and vehicles
Herding livestock to pastures for grazing and exercise
Performing landscape maintenance, such as weed control and snowplowing
Ordering food for animals and managing the ranch's overall inventory
Read more: Farmer Skills: Definition and Examples
Work environment for working as a ranch hand
Ranch hands work long days, often outdoors, performing physically demanding tasks. However, depending on the time of year, their work environment, working hours and daily tasks might change. These are some of the duties they may perform in each season:
During the summer, ranch hands often work from morning to evening, performing maintenance on the pipes, ditches and other parts of an irrigation system. They also herd livestock between pastures more frequently to prevent the pastures from becoming overgrazed. In June or July, the ranch hands start cutting hay and checking the different haying equipment to ensure it's in working order. During the summer months, ranch hands might also work in the direct heat, so it's important for them to dress appropriately and stay hydrated.
When fall starts, ranch hands inspect the haying equipment, perform any necessary maintenance and then store it away for the next season. During the fall, they might also start construction projects, such as new fences or facilities, and repair any existing structures before the weather becomes too cold. Before winter, ranch hands start collecting and chopping firewood. They also start feeding the calves by a trough and testing the female cows for pregnancy.
During the winter, ranch hands might work shorter days because of the snow-covered ground and limited sunlight. They feed the cattle and livestock daily and ensure their buildings and facilities are warm and operational. Ranch hands might also shovel or plow snow that's blocking facility entrances. If necessary, they also continue to repair any fences or structures to make sure they're functional and well kept by the spring.
Spring is one of the busiest seasons for ranch hands. They help with newly born calves, drying them, feeding them and herding them through pastures once they're old enough. Some ranch hands also start farming and agricultural chores in the spring, helping to level and seed the ground, as well as perform maintenance on farming equipment. Once the snow is finally gone, they also start major repairs on fences, ensuring predators can't access the livestock.
How to become a ranch hand
Here is a list of steps you can use to help you become a ranch hand:
1. Earn a high school diploma
A high school diploma or GED equivalent is the minimum education required to become a ranch hand. While pursuing your high school diploma, it's beneficial to take classes that can translate easily to a ranch hand career, such as biology, animal science or environmental science.
If your high school doesn't offer these classes, consider searching online or at your local community college for courses that can teach you influential knowledge for a ranch hand position. If you're an adult who still needs their high school diploma, there are courses you can find online or test preparation resources to help you prepare for a GED exam.
2. Gain relevant experience
It's helpful to gain some relevant experience before pursuing open ranch hand positions. Other jobs can help you develop important knowledge which can be essential for a ranch hand role, such as a day laborer, as well as a construction or maintenance worker. Physically intensive roles that focus on repair and upkeep can help you prepare for the hard labor of a ranch hand career, and the consistent repairs they make on structures, fences and more.
If you need additional experience working with animals, consider volunteering at a zoo or animal shelter, which can help you develop additional relevant skills for the ranch hand position.
Read more: Learn About Being a Laborer
3. Develop important skills
Ranch hands require the use of impressive technical skills, such as horse riding, roping and repairing general machines and equipment. Though some ranches might offer on-the-job training, before pursuing a ranch hand position, it can be helpful to learn some of these skills. If you're hoping to learn horseback riding, consider searching for local horse farms or equestrian centers that offer lessons. If you're hoping to understand more about general machine maintenance, it might be helpful to find a course online or at a local college or university that can help you learn.
Related: 15 Popular Careers With Horses
4. Consider higher education
Though it's not always necessary for starting a ranch hand career, pursuing higher education can help you develop your occupational skills and make your resume more noticeable. Pursuing a degree or certificate program in animal science or husbandry can help you learn important information about animal care and handling. Taking classes at an agricultural school can also help you develop technical skills and understand how to operate and repair farming equipment or vehicles.
Related: What Is Animal Science?
Skills for working as a ranch hand
Here are some of the skills that ranch hands use throughout their career:
Communication: During their workday, ranch hands must have powerful communication skills to interact with ranch managers and understand the tasks or assignments given to them. It's also helpful when relaying important information to other ranch hands or communicating challenges with animals, structures or machines.
Riding skills: Ranch hands interact with horses quite often throughout their workday. They ride them to help herd animals and travel large distances on the ranch's property in a shorter amount of time.
Dexterity: While ranch hands are working, they often use dexterity to help them repair fences, equipment and more. The repairs can involve powerful use of their hands and different tools which might require fine motor skills to operate.
Attention to detail: When examining fences and structures for holes, it's important for ranch hands to use attention to detail to ensure no animals can escape and no predators can enter. Ranch hands also use attention to detail when herding animals to ensure none fall behind.
Knowledge of machines: Ranch hands use knowledge of machines to help them make important repairs to farming equipment and vehicles. The knowledge helps them identify any major problems or challenges and teaches them to find the right solutions.
Animal handling: Animal handling is important for ranch hands because they interact with animals daily. Whether they're feeding them, helping them give birth or trimming their fur or mane, ranch hands need to know how to approach animals calmly and develop a bond with them.
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