The Difference Between Farms and Ranches

The Difference Between Farms and Ranches

If you’re looking to expand into agriculture or raising animals and are in the market to purchase a piece of land in Texas, congrats! You have some exciting developments in your future. 
As you get started, it’s important to know how you want the land you buy to function for you. It’s common to hear the terms farm and ranch used interchangeably, but while they share some similarities, their differences are important to understand so that you can find a property that will meet your goals as a buyer.

Basic Definitions

A farm is a piece of property that is used for growing crops
A ranch is a piece of property that is used to raise livestock such as sheep, cattle and goats.


A farm is a plot of land that focuses on production of materials, whether that be agriculture (the most common), fuel or raw materials, such as cotton. While farms that grow crops are the ones that most often come to mind, there are other types of farms that are not agricultural crop-focused, including dairy, hog and poultry farms.
Compared to ranchers, farmers tend to spend more time per acre on their land. Their main focus is to keep soil fertile for growing their crops, ensuring the quality and growth of their produce. They also focus on maximizing space to get the most out of their acreage. Farmers spend their time planting, tending to, watering and harvesting whatever it is that they grow, or managing and directing a team of people that they pay to fulfill those tasks for them.  


A ranch is a type of farm that usually raises cattle or sheep. Their primary focus is caring for their animals while maintaining land that meets the grazing needs of their livestock animals. 
A rancher’s responsibilities include managing and breeding livestock, as well as selling them at market, if that is their goal. A significant part of a rancher’s job includes soil management and rainwater collection, as these two activities help produce the best grass for grazing livestock. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Farm or Ranch

When it comes to finding your ideal farm or ranch, it’s important to consider the following key questions:
  • It’s important to do a site tour in person instead of going off pictures alone. Visiting in person allows you to understand what the terrain is really like, plus you can take in the view and get a feel for who your neighbors are and how that could impact your experience on that particular property. 
  • What are the local water sources near the property so that you can water your crops or your animals? Are those water sources legally available for you to use?
  • If you want to raise crops, what is the quality of the soil?
  • What was the land used for previously? If another farmer or rancher used the land, are there existing elements in place, like a grove or pasture with a hayfield? If so, this could save you time and money in the long run.
  • Are there deed restrictions on the land that could impact your ability to raise animals or plant crops? Ask your agent about the zoning of the property to make sure you could actually use the property the way you hope to.
  • Make sure you have a clear understanding of the property lines. Carefully evaluate the existing survey, if there is one. Some buyers choose to have a survey done themselves, if the existing survey is old or unclear.

Hill Country Farms and Ranches

If you’re looking to purchase land in the Texas Hill Country, there are some region-specific considerations that will help you make an informed decision on what property is right for you.
  • If you’re looking to raise cattle, you’ll want to look for a property that has flat areas as opposed to land that is rocky, steep or very hilly. Rolling hills are navigable for cattle, but anything with a steep climb or very rocky terrain won’t be functional for them. Rougher terrain is more conducive to smaller animals like sheep or goats who can handle those conditions. 
  • If the former owner had animals on the property before, they may have already prepared grazing areas or made accommodations for rockier or steeper areas on the property, which is great for you as the buyer.
  • Fredericksburg is known for its fruit, so some properties may come with new or old-growth peach or pecan groves or vineyards. 

Is Farming or Ranching Right For You?

Farms and ranches are active investments--they require a lot of effort to maintain and grow--so it’s important to consider the pace of life you would like to have to make sure your choice of property is compatible with your needs. 
For instance, if you want to be a dairy farmer, that work includes consistent harvesting of milk and building and maintaining relationships with buyers, while ranchers may only sell their cattle once a year.
Farmers also spend a significant amount of money up front to purchase quality food for their animals, while ranchers rely more on the vegetation present on their land. Farmers have to stick to a strict schedule and also tend to be more vulnerable to weather events, while ranchers have a little more flexibility in their daily schedule, but invest in veterinary care for their animals.
Thinking honestly about finances and the amount of time and effort you are willing to invest can help you make a decision about what kind of land, and lifestyle, is right for you.

Supplementary ROI Ideas for Landowners

One of the recent developments that many farm and ranching families have benefited from is that their land can operate secondary businesses to generate supplementary income. Especially in the popular Hill Country area, you could open a bed and breakfast or consider hosting weddings, photoshoots or other events on your property. 
With developments like these that capitalize on the booming tourism industry in Texas, particularly around Fredericksburg, investing in a ranch or farm can be a rewarding choice not only in terms of profitability, but in creating the financial freedom, flexibility and creative opportunity you want for yourself and your family. 

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