The Real Poop
You have fond memories of your tenth birthday, when your parents gave you a cowboy hat and a rope you used later that same day to lasso and hog-tie your little brother. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship (between you and the rope; the one between you and your brother suffered decidedly).
You spent hours with that hat and rope, pretending you were a rancher out on the open range. You rode an imaginary horse, herded imaginary cattle, survived imaginary stampedes, and sang imaginary songs while eating imaginary beans beside an imaginary campfire. It was tough growing up without the internet.
Now, though, you feel like becoming a cattle rancher is the right way to turn those imaginings into reality. And the best part about the plan is you'll be paid well, to the tune of $70,000 a year, to ranch that cattle (source).
For the most part, today's ranchers don't spend their lives the way the cowboys of yore did. You're as likely to find them at a desk or in a truck as you are in a saddle. They don't stare moodily off into the distance with a gun on each hip. Instead, American ranchers of the new millennium are businesspeople.
They don't just raise and drive herds; they make their livelihood selling the cows, pigs, and sheep that go on to become dinner on tables across America.
While ranching may have been simple and romantic in the days of the Old West (or at least that's what a lot of movies would have us believe), nowadays that's not so much the case. Even young people who grow up in ranching families are often compelled to go to college and get four-year degrees in animal sciences before they finally take over the family business.
Technological advances and the outsized influence exerted by corporations that make money in agribusiness require ranchers to be familiar with every aspect of animal husbandry and agricultural economics. If you want to be a rancher, just knowing how to herd your product from Point A to Point B without losing more than a handful isn't enough to get by in this business anymore.
That said, experience is still key to making it as a rancher—as is a talent for planning ahead. The ranching business is normally rife with unexpected obstacles, any of which could result in financial disaster for a rancher. For example, predicting the worst drought in a century several years in advance is impossible, but a practical rancher is always prepared for their land to dry up at a moment's notice.
It's kind of like a sixth-sense superpower that you can only develop by being surrounded by manure.
You might think there are a lot of perks to being a rancher, such as wide open spaces and the freedom to just mosey around. But that's not a realistic view of the job—that's more of a city-kid view, and cattle drivers can smell city-kid from miles away.
Ranchers work all the time; vacations and weekends are for people who spend their days in a cubicle, tapping away at a computer keyboard. The job is stressful, and you'll probably end up bruised and in the dirt on a fairly regular basis. Completely running out of money often seems like it's a breath away—and in truth it totally could be.
The upside to all of this is you'll be working with your hands on the land every single day. You'll be getting into the down and dirty with all sorts of barnyard animals, and you'll get the best tan you've ever had in your life. Get along little doggies, and let's see if this is the kind of career that'll make you wake up and shout the yee-haw.
Also, we promise we'll try to hold off on the cowboy jokes as much as we can. We wouldn't want our city-kid-ness to show.