Why Do You Ranch?
By Dallas Mount, UW Extension Educator
It may sound like a strange question, but take a minute to consider it: Why do you ranch?
For the last few months I’ve traveled the region talking about how to conduct an economic analysis of the ranching business, with the goal of improving the profitability of the ranch. More and more often I’ve had pushback from participants who don’t feel comfortable with the idea that ranching should be a profitable endeavor. I’ll often hear the comment, “We don’t ranch to make money; we do it for the lifestyle.” I’ll concede that there may be ranchers out there who would rather operate an unprofitable ranch because they are ranching for entertainment or for other reasons, perhaps related to real-estate investments or tax sheltering, but I doubt those categories fit most ranches in Wyoming.
I would like to challenge you to visit with your ranch team and propose the question: Why do we ranch? Maybe your list would include some of the following items:
• Love the land
• The lifestyle
• Create opportunities for my kids
• Love working with animals
• I like the freedom
• Keep the family ranch going
• Working outdoors
There are many more reasons, or different reasons, that might be on your list.
Once you have your reasons listed, separate them into two piles. One pile is the reasons that are easier to achieve if the ranch is profitable, and the other pile contains those on which ranch profitability doesn’t have an affect.
As I look at the example reasons listed above, I think the profitability of the ranch has an affect on the majority of them. For example, if we are ranching to provide opportunities for the kids, or to keep the family ranch going, won’t that be easier if the ranch is profitable? How many kids want to come home to a ranch that is too much work and losing money? Wouldn’t you rather work for a profitable, fun business than one that is under financial stress and where the boss is always cranky?
Perhaps you do have a few reasons for why you ranch that aren’t affected by profitability. If so, that is fine – those are good reasons, too. I’ll agree that most of us are not in the ranching business with profit as the primary reason, but I’ll argue that profit is generally a key component to achieving the reasons that we do choose to ranch. Dave Pratt of the Ranching for Profit School said it very well, “Profit is to ranching as breathing is to life.” We don’t live to breath, but life is not sustainable without breathing. Interestingly, many of the practices that make ranching more profitable also make ranching easier and more fun. Ranching does not have to be “uphill and into the wind.”
If you’re looking to find ways to improve the profitability on your ranch, I encourage you to consider participating in the High Plains Ranch Practicum School. The application deadline for discount registration is April 29, and spots are filling up fast. All the details are available at hpranchpracticum.com.
I hope your ranch gets timely moisture this spring.