Clients that purchase large ranches and have never been a ranch owner before will eventually ask this question. My answer is usually what does a ranch manager not do? Running a ranch carries with it a thousand little things that need to be done that vary from season to season and from the type of ranch and the livestock or crops.
Let’s take it from the beginning of the year. In January through say March, a ranch manager will need to feed livestock, keep water open for the animals, doctor sick animals, potentially start calving and in general keep access open with snow plowing. This is also the time to maintain equipment and keep an eye on homes and structures to make sure the cold is not freezing pipes and that all systems in the house or structure are running properly. This is also the time to catch up on paperwork and some big picture time of research on how to improve genetics, habitat, forage and water sources. And this is the slow time of the year!
Tasks for the ranch manager to do continue from there. April through say June is all about managing forage and new or young livestock. Whether someone is running a cow/calf operation or purchasing young animals to raise for slaughter there are lots to do to keep young animals going in a healthy direction. Planting crops for forage or to harvest also happens in this time period and this is where managing forage for wildlife comes in. Planting usually happens March to April depending on the location, the winter, and the crop. In certain parts of Montana or other Western states, they may take their first cutting of hay during this time. If the ranch has irrigation, spring startup always requires the ranch manager to run the lines and ditches to see what problems winter has presented you to make sure water is flowing in an efficient manner. Water heads and pipes can be frozen or clogged and start-up always brings fixes to the equipment. Vaccination of animals, branding, getting animals in the right pasture keep a ranch manager super busy. Calving can also happen during the early month of April depending on breeding and animal. Fences are usually walked or driven and repaired as soon as the snow has melted. Snow and wildlife take a toll on fences every year in the Rocky Mountain West.
July through September is about getting enough forage for heading into winter and putting weight on animals. It is also about managing wildlife for the start of the hunting season. This means good forage and timing on cuttings. It also means scouting and noticing the quality of animals, locations, and timing of appearances. Ranch managers will have at least one cut of hay or crops that might be harvested in September depending on location and weather year. They will rotate livestock to manage pastures and continue doctoring livestock as needed. Breeding of animals also can happen at this time and timing of breeding is an important part of their job. This is also the start of handling hunters, outfitters and insuring there are not poachers of game coming on the property.
October through December is about trying to get prepared for winter and managing hunters and game. Ranch managers are looking at weather; trying to decide how hard of a winter and whether they have enough feed put up. Early snow or late snow can affect this process greatly. Then you have to get fences, water sources, homes, and structures ready for winter. Getting ready for winter always seems to be an up to the last minute thing.
Ranch managers are a jack of all trades and thrive on having a varied job every day they go to work. They have to juggle all these jobs while also attending to the actual ranch owner needs and trying to ensure that the owner can see a return on investment and a long-term building of asset value through improving game and livestock. Not all ranches are the same. Some have a natural advantage that makes it low maintenance. Some can be improved, and some are just more high maintenance due to resources and geography.
If you are considering buying a ranch and concerned about hiring a ranch manager, please feel free to reach out to discuss the situation. At E&V Ranchland, we love to talk ranches and help people get the right answers to make the correct decision.
Buzz Tatom is an Advisor/REALTOR® for Engel & Voelkers in Montana. He specializes in farms and ranches. A ranch owner himself he knows the complications that a buyer or seller will go through and is able to help navigate the complicated process. Give Buzz a call or fill out his contact form and put him to work finding you the right property so you can start building memories with friends and family!