Have you ever wondered how to tell the difference between a farm and a ranch? While many people use the terms interchangeably, they are two different types of agriculture. Both farms and ranches raise food, but they each have unique differences in the way land and resources are used.
When you think of farms, you think of crops. There are over two million farms in the US alone. Farmers generally grow crops, but many also produce hogs, poultry and dairy. Farmers must be experts on the care and use of soil and fertilizer, for both food crops and animals. Farming also requires extensive knowledge of seed variety and plant growing rotations. Farm land is maximized by in depth understanding of soil and its place in the production of the food that grows from it. Farms also require large, specific types of machinery. The US Department of Agriculture reports that more than 96% of all farms in the US are run by families.
A ranch is generally associated with animals, and this is because ranchers raise cattle or sheep. These large herd animals require far more land than farm animals. While the land is an integral part of raising the livestock, the animals are the rancher’s primary focus. Ranch owners must have a deep knowledge of maintaining animal facilities, understanding of genetics, and especially the health and well being of their livestock. Ranchers are generally far larger than farms, due to the amount of grazing land required to feed their animals.
A farmer will spend the majority of her time on preparing the land for crops, planting, tending, and then harvesting a crop. This is a labor intensive process. On the other hand, ranchers devote their time to rounding up, moving, and working with their animals. They must deal with fencing and watering sources, as well as feeding and maintenance of the land their livestock uses as its food source. A farmer talks about their land in terms of fields and paddocks, which ranchers refer to pasture land.
There will always be some overlap between farms and ranches, as there are operations that do both. In addition, farmers and ranchers often work hand in hand and require each other’s products in order to produce their own. A ranch must sometimes purchase grain or feed from a farm. But overall, farms and ranches are different, though both are equally important to the public who buys their food.