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Guest Opinions

Rancher Top Ten Skills for Success

What are the 10 most important skills for a rancher to possess that would facilitate success in the ranching business? 

First, I think it is important to distinguish between cowboy skills and rancher skills. Don’t get me wrong – I am always impressed watching a good hand work cattle. It is similar to watching an artist work – definitely more entertaining! However, cowboy skills are not the same as rancher skills. 

In my book a rancher is a person who owns or manages a business that raises livestock. The cowboy is the person who works in a business that raises livestock. The rancher needs good cowboys and may even be a good cowboy themselves, but the skills required as a business owner are very different from the skills required from someone that works in the business.

I’m going to discuss my top three today. My plan is to cover the remaining seven in subsequent articles. I’d really like to hear from you what would make your list. Email me your ideas at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

People skills

First, people skills are important. It seems strange that a business that involves working in remote areas with mostly non-speaking mammals still requires people skills, doesn’t it? Maybe you even got into the ranching business because you don’t like people! 

In my opinion, the most successful ranchers have outstanding people skills. Specific people skills I’m referring to include communication, accountability, motivation, eagerness to learn, leadership and facilitation skills. Just like the success of a ranch is dependent upon these skills, lack of these skills is often the underlying cause of the demise of many ranching businesses.

Financial and economic skills 

Understanding finances and economics comes in at number two. Where is the money? What part of the ranch is the most profitable? The least profitable? How does the cash flow? What is the 10-year capital development plan? If you feel like you can’t answer these questions well, you are not alone. 

Most ranchers don’t enjoy this part of the business and therefore don’t do a good job tracking the economics or understanding the financial aspects of the ranch. If you are going to be successful you have to be good at this part of the business. Dave Pratt, with the Ranching for Profit School, discusses “Working In the Business” and “Working On the Business.” Generally those of us in ag spend way too much time working in the business and far too little time working on the business. 

Learning and applying skills in this area will allow you to work smarter, not harder.

Grass

Third, you should become a “Grass Whisperer.” When you get a good handle on the economics of your ranch, you will quickly realize that the forage production is the economic engine powering the ranch, at least as far as ag production values go. Making sure this engine is in good running order should be a priority. 

Good to excellent condition rangeland often produces twice the total forage as poor condition rangeland under the same precipitation conditions. Implementing a grazing system that accomplishes good grazing distribution and adequate rest for plants will keep this engine running in top condition. 

Top priorities

If you were to ask most young people who want to be in the ranching business to list off the skills they will need to be successful, I doubt these three would be very high on their list. We tend to focus more on the animal and less on the system in which the animal operates. The animal plays a role, but in my book, it is farther down the list. 

So how to you get good at these skills? Just like anything, find someone to teach it to you and find resources to train yourself.

There are a few outstanding educational programs that teach ranchers these skills. We are in the final stages of recruiting our classes for the High Plains Ranch Practicum School. We will be hosting classes in Laramie and Kimball, Neb. areas this year. To learn more visit HPRanchPracticum.com or contact me. There are other schools and programs, as well, but be selective in which ones you invest your time in attending. 

Making excuses

The most common excuse I hear from ranchers about why they can’t attend a school is that they are too busy working in the business. I often wonder if they are working themselves into going broke faster, and if they would stop and spend some time working on the business, they might find a solution that would increase their profit and decrease their work. 

Be sure you are not getting so caught up in the urgent that you overlook the important. 

I hope moisture finds your grass this spring.