The Difference Between a Farmer and a Rancher

Close up on farmer hands

Crocodiles and alligators. Ghosts and spirits. Farmers and ranchers. Since this is an ag-related forum, let’s talk about that last pair for a minute — is there really a difference? (Although maybe we’ll dive into alligators and crocodiles later, who knows?)

When talking about one or the other, we usually try to say “farmer or rancher” to be as inclusive as possible. The definitions are a little ambiguous, so we want to cover all of our bases. By definition, a farmer is “a person who farms” and a rancher is “a person who owns or works on a ranch,” but those are not the most descriptive explanations! 

Because the words are a little subjective, we’ll go over some of the most commonly accepted distinctions. 

First, let’s touch on a few similarities. People in both ranching and farming work long days outdoors and navigate the unpredictable weather. Grit, hard work and dedication are musts to be successful in either profession — and both are 24/7 ways of life. 

However, there are some key differences.


Farmers usually focus on growing crops. They handle everything from planting seeds to harvesting. After harvest, they have to ensure proper storage to prevent rotting or contamination. Many farmers are also responsible for transporting their crops for sale. 

Equipped with tractors, plows, combines and other machinery, farmers take great care to protect their land and get the best possible yield so they can help feed the world. Healthy soil plays a huge part in consistent crop production, so managing soil is top priority. Part of this effort is deciding whether or not to till their land. If you’d like to know more about the pros and cons of tilling, read up here!

Some farmers do work with animals, which can make the distinction confusing. Dairy and pig farmers fall under this category. For example, dairy farmers watch over and raise cows, with the ultimate goal of selling milk. And, also some ranching operations sell pork, we often use the term pig farmers for those who have their hogs penned and handle all care and feeding.

In general, farmers are to thank for fruits, vegetables and grains along with non-edible products like cotton and Christmas trees, with some yogurt, bacon and other items thrown in for good measure. 


A specialized subset of the ag community is ranching. Traditionally, ranchers are known for grazing livestock on acreage for at least part of their lives. Ranchers raise, breed and care for animals of all kinds, which eventually gives us foods like beef, bison and more (yay, steak!).

Using stock trailers, feed troughs and squeeze chutes — a secure stall to keep animals still while receiving treatment or being examined — ranchers do everything they can to protect and look after their animals. 

Keeping all the livestock healthy on a ranch is of the utmost priority. If diseases were to spread, it would be disastrous for the animals and for production. To keep things under control, ranchers make sure their animals get regular checkups and maintain good health. 

Although farming and ranching are slightly different occupations, it’s possible for a person to be both. Many folks farm the land for crops and raise livestock for meat. 

Ultimately, we’re darn thankful for both farmers and ranchers who put food on our tables and products in our homes. 

More Farm Facts