Source: American Quarter Horse Association | March 28, 2019
The cowboy is an iconic symbol of western heritage, but the profession is not merely historic: Today’s ranching community still utilizes ranch hands every day. While most hands either grew up on a ranch or have extensive experience with them, not all ranch managers require years of cattle-raising experience from their cowboys. So how do you become a ranch hand?
Here several ranch managers and hands from AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeder ranches share what these operations look for in ranch hands.
- A broad-based set of skills. Horsemanship is just one ingredient that makes up qualified ranch hands, says Mike Armitage, owner of A Bar Ranch in Oklahoma.
- Ranching experience. Ed Farmer Beggs II, owner and manager of Beggs Cattle Co. in Aledo, Texas, wants his hands to contribute to the process of calming the cattle while encouraging them to grow in his cow-calf operation.
- How you handle yourself. It’s all about how you handle yourself around the cattle, Ed reiterates – they remember how they’re handled. You want to be easy and gentle with them; you don’t want to be too rough or too quick with livestock.
- Finding joy in completing tasks. As head trainer at Tee Cross Ranches in North Pueblo, Colorado, 22-year-old J. D. Wing says: Every day is a challenge, and when you can accomplish something and get it finished, there’s no better feeling.
- Basic understanding of cattle care, feeding and watering. Alex Carone, manager at Singleton Ranch in New Mexico, says previous ranching experience comes in handy here. And being a good ranch hand is more than speaking cowboy slang.
- Some higher education. Mike of A Bar Ranch says he has seen an influx of graduates from equine and livestock programs at universities applying for positions at ranches, and it’s been a boon for the management of his operation.
- Love and appreciation for livestock and livestock management. Whether it be the care of the horse, the care of a newborn calf or the care of the equipment that we maintain the ranch with, it’s all overlapping, Mike says. So ranchers try to find ranch hands who have compassion and deep-seated knowledge about the industry.
- Desire to learn. Many times, you can be taught the other stuff. It helps if you have an idea of how to work with horses and cattle, says Clayton Schlenger, a hand at Pitzer Ranch in Ericson, Nebraska. The more knowledge you have prior to starting, the better. But at the same time, some ranches are pretty willing to take you on if you will listen and are willing to learn.
- Realize you’re going to work hard – very hard.A cowboy life is not easy. These experts all agree – the hours are long, work can be strenuous and sometimes monotonous and there are a myriad of challenges. This is why experience is helpful.
- Be humble and hardworking. As J. D. advises, be willing to get in there and learn from everybody – not just one side of things. When you humble yourself without trying to impress somebody, you learn, and you’ll end up with a job offer.