What’s The Difference Between a Ranch and a Farm?

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Have you ever wondered, “What’s the difference between a ranch and a farm?” While many people use the words interchangeably, they’re actually two different types of properties.

Both ranches and farms are large plots of land. They are both tended to by hardworking farmers or ranchers year-round, and they require large amounts of work to maintain.

Most of the work completed at farms and ranches end up in our grocery stores. Without ranches and farms, we wouldn’t have a stable food supply.

These two property types are closely related, so it’s not hard to see why they get confused. However, it’s essential to know the distinction – especially if you’re shopping for land.

So, what’s the difference between a ranch and a farm? Let’s take a deep dive into each, so you can confidently know and identify them moving forward.

What’s a Farm?

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First, know that some ranches are farms, but not all farms are ranches. That might sound confusing now but stick with us. It will all make sense soon. You see, at a base level, the word farm applies to a property where the primary purpose is agriculture.

There are several types of farms, like dairy farms, cotton farms, hog farms, crop farms, and more. However, a farm’s primary function is to facilitate agricultural goals.

Some of the most common types of farms include:

  • Livestock
  • Commercial
  • Horse
  • Poultry
  • Dairy
  • Crops
  • Mixed (crops and Animals)

Generally, farms are a place to grow crops or raise livestock to collect resources from the crop or livestock. Most of the work on farms goes towards tending to the land and maintaining the soil or keeping the specific livestock alive.   

What’s a Ranch?

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A ranch is much larger than a farm. Unlike farms, whose primary goal is agriculture and resources, ranches’ main product is livestock. Generally, the main product is an animal product, and the main job at the ranch is maintaining the livestock, like cattle and sheep.  

Many ranches house cattle, so ranching activities include things like,

  • moving the cattle from pasture to pasture
  •  buying and selling cattle
  • looking after the animals
  • maintaining the property so that it’s safe and functional
  • studying the soil to ensure that the best grass grows to keep the livestock fed
  • and more

Fundamentally, a ranch is a place to raise and sell livestock.

So, What’s the Difference Between a Ranch and a Farm?

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Both ranches and farms require a significant amount of work to maintain. Farmers and ranchers spend long days tending to their property to ensure their livestock and agriculture stay in tip-top shape.

The most significant and easiest difference to spot is the size. Farms are much smaller than ranches. However, there are large farms and small ranches. Generally speaking, though, ranches are much larger pieces of land.

Farms are set up much differently than ranches. When you look at a ranch, you will likely see a lot of wide-open space. If you look at an aerial view of a ranch, you’d see cattle or sheep and lots and lots of land.

Farms, on the other hand, are generally set-up to be a lot more task-oriented. They’re built around whatever crops or livestock goals they have. Each acre of a farmer’s land is purposefully crafted to facilitate activities.

For instance, a dairy farm will have every square inch of every acre devoted to making the dairy farm run efficiently. A ranch that has cattle is much different. It’s wide-open acreage for cattle to roam.

Things to Keep in Mind When Purchasing a Farm or Ranch

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First, you need to determine whether a farm or ranch is right for you. If you still aren’t sure, think about your needs, budget, and general goals.

Then, take the time to check out the land in person. While this is important with all land sales, it’s extra crucial with ranches and farms. You need to get a close up look at the inner workings of the land. Will you have to make modifications to facilitate your desired crop? Can your livestock move right in? Where are the property lines? You won’t be able to tell these things through online pictures alone.

If you’re buying a farm or ranch for the first time, be sure to overestimate the cost of running a ranch or farm. It takes a lot of money and manpower to keep a farm or ranch running. While there’s a lot of profit potential, you want to make sure you know what you’re getting into before you buy.  

Now that you know you can answer the question, “What’s the difference between a ranch and a farm?” shopping for one of these property types will be much easier.

Just remember, if you have any questions about a farm or ranch, be sure to ask the property owner. Don’t purchase any piece of land for sale until all your questions are answered and you’re confident about your investment. 

Skylar Ross is a writer for Land.us who specializes in topics related to land management, property investment, and real estate. He focuses on helping current and prospective landowners care for their land, discover investment opportunities, and be successful in land brokerage deals.

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