Life as a Ranch Hand

rancher
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A rancher drinks water from a bore on his property.

It's probably safe to say that sore muscles are a big part of ranch hand life. A standard job description asks that potential ranch hand applicants be able to lift at least 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and carry a 45-pound (20-kilogram) pack for up to eight hours. Ranch hands also may hike or ride horseback up to 10 miles (16 kilometers) per day. That's a lot of physical work.

If you land a job as a ranch hand, what should you expect? Besides the daily jobs -- caring for the horses and livestock as well as other tasks -- a ranch also requires many seasonal chores. In spring and summer, your day usually begins at daybreak and ends around sundown. In fall and winter, the workdays become a little shorter.

  • Spring: A ranch hand is quite busy in the spring because spring is calving season. Ranch hands help with the daily feeding and caretaking. They feed and dry calves soon after birth, as well as tag and vaccinate them when it becomes appropriate. They wean calves from their mothers and move them from pasture to pasture. Cattle need feeding every day until the pasture grass is green enough for grazing. General farming chores start in the spring, too -- leveling the ground and seeding. By late spring, ranch hands can brand new cattle as well. Once snow is no longer an issue, spring repairs and any new building begins. One never-ending duty of a ranch hand is to check the ranch fences to ensure there are no holes through which cattle could escape -- or predators could enter.
  • Summer: Irrigation chores begin in mid-spring through about August. Ranch hands perform maintenance on ditches and pipes, making any necessary repairs. The workday lengthens from dawn until dusk, seven days a week. In the summer, ranch hands move cattle from pasture to pasture more often, as well, to prevent pastures from becoming overgrazed. The first cut of hay usually happens in June or July, and into August. The ranch hand preps, oils and checks that the haying equipment is in good working order.
  • Fall: Once haying ends, ranch hands clean and store the equipment. Repairs to farm equipment, buildings and fences are ongoing. Fall is also a good time to begin new construction projects, as the season winds down. Calves should be weaned and eating from troughs by this time. The ranch hand also starts pregnancy testing female cows and administering appropriate vaccinations. Firewood collection and chopping begins around this time as well.
  • Winter: Winter is mostly about maintenance. Ranch hands feed the cattle and livestock every day, since the pastures are usually frozen or blanketed with snow. Firewood collection continues. Maintenance and perimeter fence checks also continue through winter.

For more on ranching and cattle, check out the links on the next page.