More homesteaders from all walks of life are interested in moving out of the big cities, buying land, and growing food for a healthier lifestyle. If you are curious about leaving everything you know behind and starting a new living standard, start here! Let’s discuss rural farming, ranching, and homesteading – including the little-known differences between farms vs. ranches vs. homesteads. Which variety is best for you? And how do these rural lifestyles differ?
- Farm vs. Ranch vs. Homestead – What's the Difference?
- What Is a Ranch?
- Products Ranches Produce
- How Big Is a Typical Ranch?
- What Is a Synonym for the Word Ranch?
- What State Has the Most Ranches?
- What are the Three Types of Ranch?
- What Is Considered a Ranchette?
- How Many Acres Is a Ranchette In Texas?
- What State Has the Most Ranch Land?
- What Is the Average Size of a Ranch In Montana?
- What are Other Names for a Rancher?
- What Is a Rancher Person?
- What Is the Biggest Ranch In the US?
- Is a Rancher the Same as a Cowboy?
- What Is a Farm?
- What Is a Homestead?
Farm vs. Ranch vs. Homestead – What’s the Difference?
Farms, ranches, and homesteads are three property types used for agricultural purposes. However, there are some primary differences between them.
A farm is a plot of land where the owners rear animals and grow tasty agricultural crops for profit. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a farm is any operation that can produce and sell at least $1,000 in agricultural products a year.
There are different types of farms, including crop farms, fish farms, farmsteads, dairy farms, poultry farms, and meat farms. Crop farms grow fruits, vegetables, and grain. And fish farms (catfish, trout, salmon) are becoming increasingly popular. Dairy farms raise animals for milk or other dairy products, while poultry farms raise chickens and turkeys for meat.
A ranch is a farm type specializing in animals. In other words – a ranch is where livestock gets raised to produce meat and other products. While cattle ranching is the most common – sheep, goats, pigs, and other animals are also popular.
A homestead is a property used for self-sufficient living. It is a place where homesteaders grow food, raise animals, and generate off-grid energy. Homesteads are typically smaller than farms and ranches. They often exist in rural areas. Homesteads are hopefully self-sufficient. They usually have gardens, food forests, orchards, and livestock.
|Definition:||Any agricultural land that gets cultivated in some way to produce commercial goods. (Like meat, dairy, fruit, or veggies.)||A specific type of farm that focuses on raising and herding hoven animals. (Like cows, goats, or sheep.)||A homestead is any house or farmhouse with bordering buildings and land.|
|Primary focus:||Crop cultivation and animal rearing. (For example – a farm might specialize in ||Raising and herding hoven animals. (For example – a ranch might specialize in selling high-quality beef, pork, or bacon.)||Giving homesteaders a place to live off the land sustainably. For example, a small family living in a rural area who raises chickens, grows peaches, and sells chicken eggs.|
|Size:||According to the USDA, the average farm size in the United States was 445 acres in 2021, up from 444 acres the previous year. However, the size of farms can vary widely depending on the region, type of farming, and other factors. For example, the largest private landowner in the US, John Malone, owns 2.2 million acres of land.|
It’s also worth noting how most farms in the USA are tiny family-operated farms that account for nearly fifty percent of US farmland. And – these small-scale family-run farms also generate 21% of production.
|Ranches have reputations for being more spacious than farms. But – it’s impossible to say for sure whether or not they’re bigger on average. The size of a ranch can vary widely depending on the region, type of farming, and other factors. For example, our editor from New England regularly visits a local cow ranch for hamburgers, steaks, and sausage that is only a few acres. But, some farm ranches in Australia, known as stations, extend more than 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles).||Homesteads are famously smaller than either farms or ranches. A homestead might be a tiny cabin on a half acre. It could also be something far more luxurious – if you’re lucky!|
|Products:||Vary greatly in size, productivity, crops, livestock, products, and even services. (Farms can produce nearly any crop – from apples, corn, and grain to beans. Farms also raise animals, including chickens, turkeys, ducks, pigs, and anything else with a high market demand.)||Ranches are unique in that they primarily only raise livestock. (Cows, pigs, goats, sheep.)||Homesteads can produce various produce, but usually at a much smaller scale. Consider homestead staples like fruits, veggies, and herbs. Chicken eggs are also one of the best products homesteaders can sell.|
|Lodging and Meals:||Some farms offer lodging and fresh meals. (One of our favorite farms in Massachusetts, Kimball’s Farm, offers some of the best-fried clams and New England Clam Chowder!)||Many ranches offer lodging and meals for visitors. These ranches bear the monicker dude ranches. Alisal Ranch in Solvang, California, C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado, and The Ranch at Rock Creek in Philipsburg, Montana, are excellent examples of our favorite dude ranches.||Homesteads are usually only prominent enough to provide lodgings for the primary residents.|
|Pasture Management and Water Access||Farms need water – but ranchers arguably need more since they raise many animals. That said – farmers still benefit by having access to plenty of water. We read an article saying that 20 California farming families use more water than other states combined!||Essential. The estimated daily water intake for dairy cows ranges from 1 to 41 gallons per head per day, depending on the temperature, production level, and moisture in feedstuffs. (Other animals need tons of water, too – including goats, pigs, chickens, and nearly any other farm animal.)||Homesteads benefit tremendously from having private well-water access. However, they don’t need nearly as much water as a ranch or farm.|
As you can see from our farm vs. ranch vs. homestead table above, Farms are for crop and livestock production. But ranches focus on raising and herding hoven animals, typically cattle or sheep. Homesteads could fall into either category – but on a much smaller scale. The products that farms produce vary in size, productivity, crops, livestock, products, and even services. On the other hand, ranches primarily make money via their livestock.
There’s also lots more to know about farms vs. ranches vs. homesteads.
Consider the following!
What Is a Ranch?
A ranch is a large property where livestock like cattle live to produce raw materials like meat. Ranches also create other products like wool and leather. It is usually commercial, and the products grown or raised get sold. Unlike farms with crop fields, ranches usually include grass pastures, where animals graze for food, and cowboys or ranchers care for them.
Products Ranches Produce
Here are some of the most popular products that ranchers grow and sell:
|Cattle:||Cattle are the most common type of livestock raised on ranches. They are primarily maintained for their savory meat, buttery milk, and comfy (and warm) hides.|
|Goats:||Goats are raised for their meat, milk, and hides. Many homesteaders also love goats for clearing brush and weeds from pastures.|
|Sheep:||Sheep are also commonly raised on ranches. They are famous for their wool, meat, and milk.|
|Pigs:||Pigs are tasty and intelligent animals raised for their meat and hides.|
|Horses:||Ranchers raise horses for racing, riding, cattle management (cowboy style), or ranch work.|
|Llamas and Alpacas:||Llamas and alpacas are famous for their fluffy, warming wool and yummy meat.|
Farmers might also raise unusual animals not on this list – like yak, bison, Guinea fowl, deer, or ducks.
How Big Is a Typical Ranch?
Give me land. Lots of land! Ranches are massive and vary from a few hundred acres to hundreds of thousands of acres. The size will vary due to geographical location, land availability, and the livestock and crops raised and kept there. (The rancher’s pockets also play a massive role in the ranch size. Wealthy ranchers are usually more prominent.)
What Is a Synonym for the Word Ranch?
Ranches are also called farmsteads, granges, and estates because of the livestock living there.
What State Has the Most Ranches?
Texas, the Lone Star State, takes the lead for its vast land and rich agricultural history. From cattle to horse ranches, Texas is a hub for everything ranching and showcases the deep-rooted cowboy culture that shaped the state’s identity.
(In case you’re wondering – according to the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas has 248,416 farms and ranches that cover 127 million acres. That’s a ton of ranch land! However, we could not find the exact number of ranches in Texas compared to other states.)
What are the Three Types of Ranch?
According to the United States Agriculture Department, three primary types of ranches include:
- Livestock Ranches: A livestock ranch focuses on raising and managing livestock like dairy cows, sheep, goats, and horses. Livestock ranches involve grazing lands where animals feed and invariable get used for meat, dairy, leather, and other products.
- Crop Ranches: Crop ranches, also called farm ranches, focus on cultivating crops like vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts. They could also include pastures or hay fields to support livestock.
- Combination Ranches: Combination ranches feature livestock and crop production in separate areas. They may also rotate the activities to use the land for both purposes every other year.
Remember – The type of livestock raised on a ranch can vary, and the products from the livestock can also differ. For example, a cattle ranch may produce beef, while a sheep ranch may produce lamb. Additionally, some may make and market other products such as wool, milk, nuts, cheese, or eggs. The products that a ranch sells will depend on the type of livestock raised and the rancher’s goals.
What Is Considered a Ranchette?
Ranchettes are mini versions of a traditional ranch. Ranchettes usually are only between 10-20 acres. This newer version has allowed homesteaders to turn their dream of owning a ranch into a reality on a more manageable scale.
How Many Acres Is a Ranchette In Texas?
A Ranchette in Texas typically refers to a smaller-scale ranch or hobby farm and can range in size from a few acres to about 20 acres.
What State Has the Most Ranch Land?
The gorgeous state of Montana, with its stunning landscapes and wide open spaces, claims the spotlight for the most ranch land. The state’s rich agricultural heritage and favorable conditions make it a prime location for ranching activities.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Montana has 27,100 farm and ranch operations covering 58.1 million acres of land. That is a ton of land, roughly 62.4% of the state’s real estate.
What Is the Average Size of a Ranch In Montana?
Ranches in Montana vary in size – from hundreds to thousands of acres. The average size of these farms and ranches is 2,137 acres.
What are Other Names for a Rancher?
There are many different names for a rancher that are often used interchangeably and showcase the diverse range of people who own or manage ranches.
- Ranch Owner
- Livestock Farmer
- Ranch Operator
- Grazing Manager
- Ranch Manager
- Ranch Hand
- Rancher Person
What Is a Rancher Person?
Have you ever heard of a rancher person? They operate or manage a ranch and are typically involved in many activities, including raising and managing livestock, overseeing grazing lands, and cultivating crops. They could also care for animals, maintain infrastructure, manage pastures, and make business decisions.
What Is the Biggest Ranch In the US?
The biggest ranch in the United States is the Waggoner Ranch in Texas. The Waggoner Ranch spans an unbelievable 535,000 acres. Here’s something to think about. This sprawling ranch is more spacious than some small countries!
Is a Rancher the Same as a Cowboy?
A rancher and a cowboy are not the same. A rancher owns or manages a ranch, overseeing the overall operations and management of the property. A cowboy is a skilled worker specializing in herding cattle, roping, and other ranch-related activities.
What Is a Farm?
A farm is a property that grows acres of crops and raises animals for profit. You may visit your local farmers market for freshly picked fruits and vegetables. These are grown in healthy soil by small food producers. Even larger grocery stores carry local produce. There are different types of farms, including poultry farm, an urban farm, and a crop farm, among others. Farms can also be tremendously spacious – and these are considered factory farms.
Products Farms Produce
Here are some of the most popular products that farmers grow and sell:
|Vegetables:||Vegetables are one of the most common products sold by farmers. Some of the most popular vegetables include tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, squash, peas, beans, lettuce, turnips, kale, basil, garlic, cantaloupe, nuts, lettuce greens, microgreens, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa seeds, strawberries, blueberries, apples, nectarines, and grapes.|
|Fruits:||Fruits are another popular product sold by farmers. Some of the most popular fruits include apples, strawberries, avocadoes, lemons, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, peaches, plums, cherries, grapes, bananas, and watermelons.|
|Dairy products:||Dairy products such as milk, cream, butter, cheese, and yogurt are also commonly sold by farmers.|
|Meat:||Meat is another popular product sold by farmers. The most popular meat sold include hamburgers, steak, beef, pork, chicken, rabbits, and lamb.|
|Eggs:||Eggs are a popular product sold by farmers who raise chickens.|
|Honey:||Honey is another popular product sold by farmers who raise bees.|
|Baked goods:||Baked goods such as bread, cake, cookies, brownies, muffins, and cupcakes are also commonly sold by farmers.|
|Plants and flowers:||Plants and flowers, such as seedlings, roses, clones, starter plants, and lavender, are more in-demand farm products.|
Wool, cotton, and fiber are three other products that farms create. The farm products can also change as cost and profitability change with the market demand.
Why Is It Called a Farm?
What is a farm? And where did the name come from? The word farm has an interesting origin with a touch of history. It comes from the Old English word feorm, which refers to payment or rent. Over time, feorm evolved to feorme, a land rented for agriculture. Eventually, it transformed into the word farm as we know it today.
What Is a Farmer Girl Called?
A female, like a male who farms, is called a farmer. Although, the term farmher is sometimes used for informational purposes to recognize females who engage in the same farming activities as their male colleagues.
What Is a Hobby Farmer?
Hobby farmers usually have a small plot of land for enjoyment instead of farm income. Hobby farming may include a garden for food and animals like dairy cows, chickens, goats, or bees. Some hobby farmers may also produce homemade products such as honey, eggs, or vegetables.
What Is the Difference Between a Farmer and a Rancher?
While both farmers and ranchers take pride in working in the agricultural industry, the differences between farms and ranches are apparent. A farmer usually grows crops on a farm to provide food and other agricultural products. A rancher raises livestock on a larger scale of land called a ranch and cares for animals like cattle, sheep, or horses.
Is There a Difference Between a Rancher and a Cowboy?
A rancher is a person who owns or manages a ranch, overseeing the overall operations and management of the property. They’re responsible for the success and sustainability of the ranch. On the other hand, a cowboy is a skilled worker specializing in herding cattle, roping, and other ranch-related activities. Cowboys often work closely with the livestock.
Is a Farmer Male or Female?
Farmers can be male or female. All are welcome – and we’re an inclusive group! Whether male or female, farming celebrates the love for the land, dedication to nurturing crops, and livestock care – all of which are becoming for males and females.
Who Owns the Most Land In the USA?
The United States government is known to own the most land. However, the Emmerson family owns at least 2.3 million acres throughout California, Washington, and Oregon.
What Is a Homestead?
Homesteading lifestyles are growing in popularity. But what is a homestead, exactly? A homestead includes a home, land, and buildings surrounding it. A family usually uses the residence, land, and adjacent buildings. It’s their primary dwelling. Homesteads are typically less than 100 acres, compared to farms and ranches, and focus on providing a self-sufficient living environment for the family living within.
Products Homesteads Produce
|Vegetables:||Tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, peppers, corn, beans, squash, and kale are some of the most popular garden veggies that homesteaders and our fellow gardening friends cultivate.|
|Fruits:||Nectarines, apples, blueberries, strawberries, mangoes, lemons, and peaches are popular fruits likely growing in your nearest homestead.|
|Herbs:||Oregano, catnip, chive, parsley, and lavender are some of the most in-demand herbs that homesteaders cultivate.|
|Chicken Eggs:||Chicken eggs are one of the most in-demand products homesteaders create. Many homesteaders make a steady side hustle by selling backyard eggs to neighbors.|
Homesteaders can also offer other products – including animal manure, dairy milk, or backyard plants.
Are Homesteads and Farmsteads the Same Thing?
A homestead refers to the dwelling, land, and buildings where a family lives. The focus of a homestead is typically on sustaining the family rather than commercial production. The term farmstead refers to the physical infrastructure and buildings on a farm, including the home, barns, silos, and other structures related to farming.
Thanks for reading our guide about farms vs. ranches vs. homesteads!
We know this is a confusing topic for new homesteaders. But the differences break down like this.
- Farms – Any land cultivated for commercial purposes.
- Ranch – An expansive farm that raises and hosts animals. Most ranches host cattle, sheep, and horses.
- Homestead – A home for homesteaders. Many homesteads include farming or ranching attributes – but usually on a much smaller scale.
Thanks again for reading.
If you have more questions about farming, ranching, and homesteading, please share with us!
We love living the outdoor life, and regardless of how you spend your days – whether gardening, growing, raising animals, or cowboying – we love to hear from you.
Thanks again for reading.
Have a great day!
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Farms vs. Ranch vs. Homesteads | Resources, Works Cited, and References
- Farms and Land In Farms | 2021 Summary | USDA
- Top Farms With Largest Acreage In the USA | Successful Farming
- Looking at America’s Family Farms | USDA
- Ranching | National Geographic
- The 20 Farming Families Who Use More Water Than Some States | USA Today
- Livestock Water Requirements | North Dakota State University Extension Website
- America’s Farms and Ranches at a Glance | Ohio State University | Ohio AG Manager
- Texas Agricultural Stats | Texas Department of Agriculture
- Montana Agricultural Stats | National Agriculture Statistics Service
- W.T. Waggoner Ranch | Largest Ranch Under One Fence!
- Red Emmerson, America’s Largest Landowner | The LandReport