What is Your Role in the Ranch?

by Dallas Mount


Is your primary role in your business working as a doer or a planner? When the doer goes out the door in the morning, they get to work doing all the things that need to be done in the business. The list is never ending. Fix the water in the Smith pasture, put out mineral to this group, complete the pasture move of that group. Then it’s to the shop to replace the axle in the trailer and then on to another project.  

The planner holds the Monday morning meeting where tasks are coordinated among the team. Who will take the lead on what? What kind of help is needed? The group discusses ways to streamline or eliminate tasks altogether. The planner considers whether we should build this ourselves or outsource it.  Sure, we could do it, but it would take us away from these other important things that create real value in our business. If we hired it out, they might even do it better, and in half the time.

In agriculture we are taught to be frugal. Rightly so. Commodity agriculture is often a business where the low-cost producer wins. But our frugal nature can get in the way of running a successful business. Why would I hire someone to do that, when I can do it myself? With that kind of thinking we end up with a million jobs to do and just when we start to get good at that thing we are off to do something else. Also, the frugal thinking we needed to get the business off the ground isn’t the same thinking we need to grow the business to support multiple families. 

If we look at an average size family ranch the annual overheads might be somewhere around $300,000 to $400,000. These are just the costs of keeping the doors open on the place including land and labor related costs. Let’s assume someone works 5 days a week and takes 2 weeks off a year. (If some of you are rolling your eyes, then this may be part of the problem.) That leaves 250 working days a year. Just to cover overheads, not including profit, each working day the business must create $1,200 of gross margin. For a deeper dive into this read Profit Tips The Value of a Day.  

I find that identifying that number can give management focus on the things that really create significant value to the business. To make any business successful someone needs to be the leader. If the leader is too busy putting out mineral and fixing the water in the Smith pasture then is it really even a business or just a bunch of assets and a collection of jobs?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t know how to fix stuff or be able to work in our businesses, but I am saying that if you’re in a leadership position your primary job is to plan and lead, not to labor. Shouting orders from the cab of the backhoe isn’t leading. Leading the business involves strategy, enterprise analysis, budgeting, vetting ideas, and turning others loose to leading efforts. It’s time we redefine the leader of a successful ranching business from the person with the most calluses, to the individuals who have the self-discipline to be the leaders their business needs. How are you making an effort to lead your business?

7 Responses to “What is Your Role in the Ranch?”

March 23, 2022 at 8:18 am, Monte+lerwick said:

I like your landing spot here.
“It’s time we redefine the leader of a successful ranching business from the person with the most calluses, to the individuals who have the self-discipline to be the leaders their business needs.” I struggle with my sense of self worth when I’m not building callouses. Until we all sat down and wrote out the work we were doing, it was hard to get mutual respect in our crew. Everybody is a doer, even the planners!


March 23, 2022 at 2:06 pm, Anthea Henwood said:

Please send Americans who are doers to Australia.
I want to be a planner.
Not much point being a planner if we have no doers capable of doing.
These we lack in Australia.
The biggest threat to Ag production in Australia is lack of doers.
We would all love to be planners.
So how about export some doers?
There is a special ag visa available.


March 24, 2022 at 7:02 am, George Stromeyer said:

Two of the sons of our ranch manager in Argentina have benefited from the Australian Agwork program. It is excellent. One of them is headed back… Can only recommend it!


March 23, 2022 at 3:40 pm, Jordan Parker said:

My grandfather always talked about working “for the business” or “ON the business.”

It’s easy to see when my wife does it throughout the day for her holistic health coaching practice, but it can be hard to notice when I’m putting out fires instead of leading from foresight, patience, and self-discipline.

We also recently took this excellent Big 5 Personality test called “Understand Myself” —I will now have every new hire take this test before starting work in my agency. It helped explain the personality types of each employee and helped shine actionable insights into who is most likely to be successful in XYZ role.


March 23, 2022 at 6:13 pm, George Stromeyer said:

Don’t underestimate the value a team sees in a leader who spends his time studying, planning ahead and organizing. They feel empowered and are more confident of their and the business’ future.


March 28, 2022 at 4:30 pm, Burke said:

It has to be a pretty big ranch before the leader can escape being a doer or worker also. That means he/she needs the discipline to do the strategic or leader type work when it might be much more pleasant to help build fence, fix a water line or especially do a little cattle work. If most of the gross product becomes gross margin, and you fight the overheads hard, most of us don’t want to live on the profit that most well run ranches of moderate size make. Learn to use that mindless time (don’t let it be that) you spend getting from place to place–horseback, four-wheeler, pickup, etc to do some pre-WOTB work. Dictate notes to your phone or jot them down. Then make sure you have adequate real WOTB time in the office to really put it in place. It really doesn’t take a lot of your time. Besides, much of a managers success is determined by what he observes on the land, in the livestock and in his people–then modeling and mentoring good practice. Putting numbers to that and analyzing different alternatives doesn’t take all that much time. It just takes the discipline to do it. It is the $1,000 per hour work; so make sure you do it.


March 29, 2022 at 2:06 pm, Anthea Henwood said:

I like that- using the “mindless” time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *