Written by Stefanie Kilts

The Future of Ranching

The Future of Ranching by Stefanie Kilts

'The working rancher today is caught between two worlds, the world they want to maintain and the lifestyle they want to maintain and the fact that they're dealing with a real product that is manipulated...by all kinds of external influences that they have no control over.' - Norm Clasen, Marlboro photographer

Many of the U.S.’s family-owned working cattle ranches are disappearing or struggling to survive. Centered around Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, New Mexico, Hawaii and Arizona, half a million ranching operations have been eliminated from the U.S. since 1980, a decline of 41 percent. The lost of ranches in the U.S. accelerated in 1996 and an average of 12,000 ranching operations are lost each year.


National Agricultural Statistics Service

The traditional working cattle ranch faces a number of pressures: the shifting of families and matriarchs/children taking over, cattle prices, water rights, land use and competition from larger cattle operations. Profitability is a major reason that smaller cattle ranches are struggling to make ends meet. In 1980, the rancher received an average of 63 cents of every dollar spent on beef but by 2009 that number had dropped 20 percent, to 43 cents of every dollar.

Projected Profits for Cow Herd Cattle

Harlan Hughes, Beef Magazine

The stories from this project will range from ranchers who are still hanging onto their working cattle ranches, some who have given their ranching lifestyle up and to ranchers who are trying new models to survive in the New West’s changing landscape.