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  • Writer's pictureJaelle


At Cheyenne Frontier Days this summer, I took up a friendly chat with a nice citified lady. I told her my husband and I raise cattle for fun and profit, but mostly for fun and that we grow all the feed for them, like hay, corn, and oats. Then she asked, “Well, are you farmers or ranchers?” And before I could reply, she went on, “Oh, I know, they’re both the same, it just depends on which part of the country you’re from.”

Well––I proceeded to tell her the difference between ranchers and farmers. “Both are hard-working land lovers that talk about the weather and the insect infestations and both are very independent. And that’s about where the similarities end.”

Ranchers have cattle, sheep and horses. Farmers have crops and earth. Ranchers have cows that have calves that get branded, dehorned and/or desexed, while a farmer has dirt an inch thick under his or her fingernails and up his or her nose.

Ranchers smell like a horse, look like a weathered piece of rawhide, and walk like they have a barrel between their knees. Farmers, on the other hand, smell like a combustible oil tanker, look like a moving dust bowl, and walk like they’ve got a billion-dollar debt on their backs.

A farmer will be attired in a chambray shirt, have a small unpretentious belt buckle and Levis with patched knees. A rancher is the one in the Western shirt, a wide, ornate conspicuous belt buckle, and Levis with the patched crotch.

A rancher will almost always wear a cowboy hat and a farmer will always wear a billed cap: one of those one-size-fits-all-if-you-adjust-the-snaps-in-back kind. The farmer’s hat will probably have been given to him or her by a seed company, an implement dealership, or a combining crew and will advertise those businesses. If, on some rare occasion, a rancher wears an adjustable cap it will advertise a bull or a ranch.

Farmers always apologize for everything new they ever buy. “Sure do like your new car farmer Hank.” “Well, we just had to do something. The old ’56 Chev wouldn’t hardly go any more. Got a crack in the radiator last winter, the muffler fell off sometime in ’84, the back windows wouldn’t roll up and the transmission went out last month. We thought we probably should just walk but the missus has a really bad back and I got flat feet, so….”

A rancher, on the other hand, will let you know how much his or her new car costs. “Holy cow, that dang new car of ours darn near cost us half our cow herd. And what a gas gobbler that little car is. Heck, we should just ride a horse. It’s a whole lot cheaper––and a lot more comfortable.”

Ranchers have brandings, cullings, sortings and weanings. Farmers have planting, irrigatings, plowings, and harvestings. Ranchers fix fence. Farmers fix equipment. Ranchers hang their saddle blankets and saddles on fences. Farmers hang equipment up on fences.

Good farmers have lots of wet brows. Good ranchers have lots of wet saddle blankets, although, Cowboy Jake hangs his saddle blankets on the clothesline when it rains; that doesn’t count.

A really good rancher will have a tooth or two missing, having it extracted by a hoof. Of course, it costs half the cowherd to have it replaced. A really good farmer will be minus a finger or at least a fingernail, testimony to hard work at a high-risk job and he will apologize for this deformity for the rest of his life.

Ranchers will eat an antelope that happens to cross the ranch before eating a mortgaged bovine. Farms will eat mostly what they have grown, whether it’s in the field or in the garden, and then what every other farmer has grown and sold.

The rancher works from dawn to dusk and then worries the rest of the time. The farmer works from dawn to dusk and then puts lights on the tractor to work the rest of the time.

Ranchers check cattle, fix meals for at least 125 at the annual branding, milk the milk cows and bottle feed the bum calves and lambs, usually in the kitchen of the farmhouse. On the other hand, farmers bale the hay, irrigate the corn, weed the garden and harvest their crops if the hail doesn’t get them first.

Farmers get embarrassed when they back the farm truck into the combine during harvest, when the kids strip and jump into the irrigation ditch right by the main highway, and when they run a tractor into a hidden cement post in the alfalfa that has been there for twenty years.

Ranchers suffer from embarrassment when they give twenty calves vaccination shots with the wrong vaccine, when their horse shies from a tumble weed and they end up on the ground, and when the kids answer the phone while their brother-in-law is artificially inseminating a cow and tells the caller, “Mom can’t come to the phone. She’s out in the barn breeding with Uncle Joe.”

Terms frequently used by ranchers are: “holy cow”, “no bull”, and “oh, horse manure”. Farmers say: “land sakes”, “why, that dirty blood sucker”, and “scum of the earth”. Ranchers will tell you, “He’s got a temper shorter than a rattlesnake’s hind legs”, while farmers will say, “Why, he was more depressed than a foot print in quick sand.” Ranchers will…

“Enough, enough,” interrupted the nice citified lady, “I understand now. Ranchers and farmers are not the same no matter what part of the country they live in. So you and your husband must be–ranchers,” she said with triumph.

“Holy cow, land sakes, no. I’m so sorry, we can’t hardly afford it, but we’re ranchers and farmers.”

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