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What Is the Difference Between a Farm and a Ranch?

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To city slickers, the words “ranch” and “farm” are virtually synonymous. The vision of roaming cattle, green fields, fruit orchards, pig stys and apiaries all blend together in a romanticized vision of agriculture and husbandry. But anyone working on either type of establishment would be offended to hear the words used interchangeably. While farms and ranch life can be very similar, and often overlap, they are two separate types of operations.

Before you go making assumptions, get educated on the real difference between a farm and ranch, and what its like to live and work on them.

Farms primarily refer to places where farmers raise crops, but also include hog, dairy and poultry farming. There are just over 2.2 million farms in the U.S., and its average size is about 435 acres. Labor is typically quite varied and energy expensive, depending on the type of crop. They maximize their land by nurturing crops and tending to the soil and its quality very carefully. Farmers spend their time planting, growing, and harvesting their crop, as well as treating their soil and maintaining infrastructure, like trellises and greenhouses.

Ranches specifically raise cattle or sheep and typically cover a much wider range than do farms, because of the grazing needs of their livestock. Ranchers maximize their lands potential by utilizing the grass as a form of energy, and their “machinery” typically consists of horses or trucks that are used to herd the animals. Ranchers spend their time gathering, moving and working their livestock, treating sick animals or overseeing mating and births. Often, ranchers try to move their animals in a way that will improve the quality of their land and its water resources, through a system of herding schedules, gate networks and strategic tree location.

Farming and ranching are both very valuable to the country — they produce a majority of its food and other important products, like dairy and leather goods. They are essential to the economy, and support families. In fact, as many as 96.4% of the crop producing farms in the U.S. are owned by families.

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