A ranch hand needs to know how to fix things, how to take care of animals, how to handle cattle, how to build a fence, how to care for crops -- the list is varied and nearly endless. It's not a surprise that many employment ads for ranch hands use the phrase "jack of all trades."
Animal husbandry is the care of animals, particularly livestock animals like cows, sheep, chicken, goats, pigs or horses. A ranch hand is responsible for preparing them for sale or slaughter. Caring for these animals includes keeping them healthy, overseeing breeding and birthing, feeding and prepping for market. Following are a few examples of a ranch hand's responsibilities in the area of livestock:
- Feeding -- Especially during the calving season, the cows and calves must be fed and watered each day.
- Medicating -- Calves require certain vaccinations, and sick cattle may require medication.
- Calving -- Ranch hands should know how to assist a cow in birthing a calf, as well as performing aftercare.
- Weaning -- Another skill is knowing when and how to wean a calf successfully from its mother.
- Monitoring -- Ranch hands also need to monitor the general health and wellbeing of livestock on a regular basis.
- Herding -- Herding is a big part of ranch life. Ranch hands can herd cattle on horseback, on ATV or any number of ways.
- Branding -- Ranchers use ear tags or electric brands with the ranch's insignia to mark their cattle.
A ranch hand should also understand how the agriculture industry works. Ranch hands should be comfortable on a farm and around farm equipment. Knowledge of mechanics is necessary, as ranch hands usually make small repairs to equipment. A potential ranch hand also possesses handyman skills -- knowing how to build or fix a fence and maintain facilities is important. Here is a partial list of the tasks a versatile ranch hand should be able to perform:
- Seed and manage the pastures
- Weed control
- Prep haying equipment
- Machine operation
- Minor mechanical work on machines
- Clean and store equipment
- Build and repair fencing
- Chop and collect firewood
- Irrigation maintenance
Along with a valid driver's license, a ranch hand also needs to have physical strength. The job is taxing, and a ranch hand works no matter what the weather's like.
Next up: a glimpse into the life of a ranch hand.