Becoming a Ranch Manager: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of becoming a ranch manager? Get actual salary information, job descriptions and career prospects to help you decide if becoming a ranch manager is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Becoming a Ranch Manager

A ranch manager runs the daily operation of an agricultural livestock business for the owner. Learn about the pros and cons of becoming a ranch manager to decide if it's the right career for you.

Pros of a Ranch Manager Career
Can work in many rural locations across the country*
Variety of daily tasks (raising livestock, purchasing supplies, maintaining finances)*
Work partly outdoors*
Work with animals*
Physically active on smaller ranches*
Can learn basic skills on the job*

Cons of a Ranch Manager Career
May require long hours*
Decline in overall job growth for the field (-19% expected from 2012-2022)*
Year-round responsibility means limited vacation time*
Instability due to unpredictable market changes*
Potential risk dealing with animals, equipment*
Postsecondary education increasingly necessary (associate or bachelor's degree)*
May need 10 years in industry/5 years of management experience**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **AGcareers.com

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Depending on the size of the operation, a ranch manager may have hands-on responsibility for everything from calving to creating a business plan for a sustainable future. If you manage a small ranch, you work more directly to maintain equipment, buildings and animal welfare.

On a large ranch, you may be one of several managers, each handling a particular specialty. You oversee the employees who handle daily maintenance, and you may need to coordinate with other managers. In addition to supervising personnel, you may manage livestock sales, equipment purchases, payroll and other parts of the budget. Your communication skills will come in handy when dealing with ranch hands, the ranch owner, customers and creditors.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

Wide-open spaces are where the herds roam and where the jobs are. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), states with the most rancher, farmer and agricultural manager positions in 2014 included California, Texas and Oregon (www.bls.gov.)

Most opportunities in the ranching and farming world are shrinking as some ranches and farms fail and others merge, the BLS has noted. Managers will see one of the few areas of growth as ranch owners are expected to turn more often to experienced professionals to run their properties. Employment for agricultural managers, for example, will decline by 19% from 2012 to 2022. Your salary will vary based on your experience and the size of the ranch. Salary.com reported the median salary for ranch managers as around $41,000 in 2015.

Job Skills and Requirements

First-hand experience is expected for a ranch manager, but these days you may also need an academic background in the business of agriculture.

Skills Employers Look For

Ranch managers need to know about developments in technology and other trends that effect agribusiness. Postsecondary degree programs can offer the background you need, but be aware that some programs may require ranch experience before enrollment. Based on job postings found on AGcareers.com and Monster.com, qualifications for being a ranch manager can include:

  • A background in animal health
  • Herd experience
  • Supervisory and management skills
  • Pasture experience
  • Equipment and maintenance knowledge
  • Communication skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Ranch owners need a flexible leader who isn't afraid to get dirty. You may need to know how to handle a rope, fix a pen, manage the herd, direct the ranch hands and create a computer database to track cattle breeding. Overall, remember that ranching is a business, and training in personnel management, accounting and marketing will be in demand. Below is a selection of real job openings posted in March 2012:

  • A cutting horse ranch located in the Colorado Mountains needs a manager to supervise up to 20 employees, and be responsible for overseeing the care of 100 horses and 1,500 cattle. Experience with cutting horses, computers and geographic information systems (GIS) is a bonus.
  • An Idaho ranch is seeking a seasoned professional with five years of management experience and 15 years in the industry. The job calls for a practical background in herd, pasture and building management, as well as a B.S. in Animal Science or a related field.
  • A Southern Utah cattle ranch seeks a motivated manager with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Animal Science or a related field and a substantial background in animal health. Applicant should have five years of management experience and at least 10 years in the industry.
  • In Washington, a dairy ranch advertised for an experienced manager with good communication and organization skills. The manager needs to oversee the daily care of the herd, as well as work well with other managers and customers.

How to Stand Out in the Field

If you already have plenty of practical ranch experience, a business degree or bachelor's degree in ranch management, agricultural science or animal science will make you a stronger candidate. Some degree programs allow students to specialize in areas such as cattle or dairy management. If you need more real-life experience, ranch management programs often include fieldwork or an internship to expose students to the realities of ranch work. You can also seek an apprenticeship with an experienced rancher or other mentor to gain hands-on experience.

Develop Related Skills

Stay up-to-date on changes in ranching and agricultural trends by taking continuing education courses. Look for classes in accounting, marketing, statistics and data analysis. Enroll in public speaking and interpersonal relations classes to boost your communication and people skills.

Get Certified

Certification by the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA) can help you demonstrate your professional commitment. Becoming an Accredited Farm Manager (AFM) is voluntary but requires a bachelor's or master's degree in agricultural science, years of management experience and the ability to pass exams in all aspects of ranch management. The organization also accredits rural appraisers and agricultural consultants. Professional groups such as the ASFMRA offer management training, as well as continuing education courses in topics like risk management, conservation and taxes.

Other Careers to Consider

Agricultural Inspector

If you would like to work more independently in the agricultural industry, you might consider being an agricultural inspector. In this job, you will be hired by a federal or state government to assess ranches and farms and ensure that food products and equipment follow health and safety regulations. The BLS noted that the annual average wage for an agricultural inspector was approximately $42,000 in May 2011. The expected job growth rate for this position was 13% from 2008 to 2018. Retirements will be a factor in job availability. Even more jobs may become available if legislation demands more intense scrutiny of the food industry. This job does not require a bachelor's degree in agricultural science, but you will need college-level courses in biology or similar subjects or previous experience in a related field.

Agricultural Scientist

If you prefer working with data as opposed to managing people, the research-based job of an agricultural scientist may be for you. Agricultural scientists study crops, soil and farm animals in an effort to improve food production. You'll need a bachelor's degree in agricultural science for entry-level jobs, and you may need a master's or Ph.D. for research or college teaching positions. A background in computer technology, statistics and data analysis will help you land a position. Job growth for agricultural and food scientists were predicted to be 10% from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS, while employment of animal scientists was expected to grow 13%. The median wage for animal scientists, a type of agricultural and food scientist, was $61,000 in May 2011; median salary for agricultural and food scientists in May 2010 was shown to be about $58,000.

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