13 Things You Must Consider
You’ve got something few people possess…
You have the spirit of someone who loves the one thing in this world that will never go out of style: nature.
(I know that because you’re reading this article)
And that’s a big part of why you’re thinking about buying a ranch, isn’t it?
Ranch ownership can be a fulfilling stewardship that provides you and your family with wealth, health, and happiness.
The great Warren Burke bought his first ranch in 1971 and famously said “Cattle are a business; the ranch is an investment.” It’s an investment that can lead to significant physical, emotional, financial, and even spiritual returns.
It’s not stress free, though. So, we’ve compiled a list of things you need to think about when buying a ranch. Things to help you combat the stress and preserve the thrill of working toward ranch ownership,So grab a pen and paper, and take good notes.
Buy From Someone You Trust
Purchasing a ranch is more complex than buying a home. That’s why you should find someone with extensive ranch knowledge, and a network of connections you can trust.
This person should speak the language of the ranching world. They should be able to translate terminology you don’t understand, and advise you.
There’s no harm in browsing the web and watching YouTube videos for advice. But, when it comes time to buy, you need a guide with experience and a track record of success.
A word of caution, though: be careful not to commit to the first guide you meet. Expose yourself to a diversity of opinions. There are those who have been in the business for many years, and those with less experience but a more progressive ranching mindset. Learn from both.
The Purpose of Your Ranch
This seems obvious, but you’ll need to be clear about whether your ranch is for working and raising cattle so you can make an income, your own personal enjoyment and leisure, or the leisure and entertainment of others.
One option isn’t better than the others – it’s about your preference.
A young family in Wyoming makes their living raising cattle, harvesting crops, growing a garden, and documenting the rancher’s life on YouTube.
In Riverton, Utah, a small 70 acre family farm has evolved over the years to provide not only fruit and vegetables for the family that owns it, but hayrides, pumpkin picking, educational classes, a greenhouse, farm market, and a beautiful landscape for photography.
Don’t be closed-minded to the potential of your land. But don’t be reckless either. There is a multitude of ways to enjoy, and profit from, your land.
How Much Labor You Want to Invest
This isn’t white collar work. Owning a ranch will require you to brave the elements, get your hands dirty, and rise before the sun.
You need to be honest about how much work you’re willing to invest in this, and how well you deal with the unexpected.
Imagine yourself in the cattle-raising life, rolling out of bed at 5:00AM to tackle this to-do list:
- Feed the cows, chicken, and geese
- Send your young ones off to school (one of the perks of being an owner)
- Perform maintenance on ranch equipment that broke down yesterday
- Run to the feed store to get the food your cattle ran out of this morning
- Do the rounds checking on every animal on the ranch
- Enjoy dinner with the family
- Make one last round through the ranch to check on your animals (especially the heifers who could give birth any day now)
Be honest with yourself, and those who are helping you buy, about how much work you are comfortable with.
How Much Land You’ll Need
Suppose you’ll be tending to cows. Each cow needs, on average, 30 acres of land for food since they can eat 1/2 ton of hay per month. That puts you at 1,000 acres to support roughly 33 cows.
If you’re looking for something to enjoy and invite the public into, 70-100 acres may be just enough.
Land quantity may be restricted by your budget. Be transparent about this with your broker so they can connect you with the best deals.
Land Quality & History
It’s possible you’ll inherit land that has struggled to produce crops or support animals in the past. This is critical information. It will shape how you approach the land and what you choose to do with it.
You need to think about mineral and timber reservations, water & soil erosion, the terrain, flooding issues, the type of irrigation, and terrain variation.
It can seem overwhelming, but most counties have a Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA) office that can help you understand your land quality. A knowledgeable broker can help you, too. Surveying the land with an expert by your side is an educational and reassuring experience. It’ll boost your confidence in land that you love, and raise red flags so you know when to walk away.
Your Financial Investment
It’s been said that no rancher recognizes the true cost of ranching… while you don’t want to overspend, you also can’t cut yourself short.
To help you be prepared, here are some things to think about when it comes to the financial investment of ranching:
- Pickup truck
- Tractor (you may want to stay frugal and buy a used one to start)
- Garage for storage and equipment
- Veterinary Fees
- Hay and Other Feed
If you’ll be raising and selling cattle, it’s helpful to break down the total cost of ranch ownership to a “per cow” cost. That way you’re better equipped to price and profit off your cattle.
If you have a natural water resource on your land, look into your local access laws so you know who can and can’t be using the water on your property, and what activities are allowed there.
For example, if you’re a fly-fisherman, be sure your land lets you do what you love.
If you plan to let guests enjoy a leisurely raft-ride down the river, make sure that’s allowed first.
Hiring Ranch Hands
You may need help out there, so research the market rate for ranch hands in your area and build a team if you can.
If you’re new to this, consider hiring people with these skills:
- Veterinary experience
- Weaning a calf from its mother
- Seeding and weed control
- Machine operation
(You can even copy and paste this list into your own job listing)
Because it would be a shame if you forget to dispose of your animals’ waste.
In all seriousness, do research to determine the best way to manage your waste.
Sales and activity on a ranch vary significantly by season.
In the world of cattle, you may only be selling once or twice a year. Vegetables and fruit may not grow at all during certain seasons. And, if you don’t reap during the right time of year, you won’t sow either. Be intentional and be prepared to face the seasons.
Where to Purchase Livestock
Consult with and build a network who can point in the direction of trustworthy and fair livestock sales. You don’t want to find yourself bidding too much for cattle and horses, or buying them from a rancher with a bad history.
Be Thorough in Your Search
James E. Manley is the founder of Atlanta-Pacific Capital. The New York Times reports that he looked at 500 ranches before settling on the perfect one for him. His ranch doubles as a luxury resort and land for cattle.
You’ll be astonished at the wealth of options you have when buying a ranch. And when you see all those options, there’s nothing wrong with being picky. If you feel like a seller or broker is putting undue pressure on you to make a decision, the’re no shame in walking away.
This is a decision you need to be sure about. Take your time, do your homework, and only buy a ranch when you’re sure it’s “the one.”
Don’t Buy a Ranch Alone
This might be the biggest investment of your life. Don’t do it alone.
I said it before and I’ll say it again: purchasing a ranch is more complex than buying a home. That’s why you should find someone with extensive ranch knowledge, and a network of connections you can trust.
Surround yourself with the right partners, broker, seller, banker, and other uplifting individuals who will provide you strength on this journey. These people will help you see just how capable you really are.
Success in ranch ownership isn’t reserved for the select few who were born to farmers and ranchers. It’s reserved for those who work hard, plan ahead, expect the unexpected, and have a network of trustworthy connections.
So strap on those boots… it’s time to go ranching.