Dairy Farming vs Cattle Ranching

By Alyssa Reidhead- USU Dietetics Student

The conversation was always the same. Dad did you have to hit every pot hole in the road?” “Mom I need air I think I am getting sick” “How much longer until we get there?” Five hours down and still two more to go, and did I mention the rest of the drive would be on dirt road. Going to my grandma and grandpa’s house was always well worth those bumpy 80 miles of dirt road. When the windmill gradually came into view on the hill, we were at the O’Toole Ranches! IMG_8784

This meant that until we left, my cell phone wouldn’t ring, sourdough pancakes would be served every morning for breakfast, and the beautiful setting sun would draw streaks of red and orange across the Nevada sky every night.

I come from a long line of Nevada ranchers, which dates back to my great great grandfather who came to the United States from Ireland. I know of the blood, sweat, and tears that come from ranching. From the smile for getting a high price for cattle in the fall to the tears because the feed for the year froze, and the bank would not provide another loan. Ranching and raising dairy cattle are both thankless and hard jobs, so why do these farmers continue to provide food for America? They love what they do, they love their animals, and they love their way of life


Although different, cattle ranching and dairy farming share many similarities. Let’s break this down, what are the true differences between cattle ranchers and dairy farmers?

  1. Cattle ranchers produce the beef that you see in the store or are severed at a restaurant. Dairy farmers harvest milk from their cattle which is sent to grocery stores or made into products such as cheese or sour cream.
  2. Cattle ranchers usually sell their cattle one time a year, generally in the fall. Dairy farmers sell their milk consistently throughout the year. Can you imagine year old milk? I’m sure glad they sell it daily.
  3. Beef cattle tend to have more muscle while dairy cows are leaner and use their energy to produce large amount of milk.
  4. Both cattle ranchers and dairy farmers spend hour providing care for sick animals to ensure that their herd is healthy.
  5. Dairy farmers follow a strict daily schedule. Cows must be fed and milked on a schedule to ensure they produce a high volumes of milk. Cattle ranchers have more flexibility in their schedule. Ranchers may spend their time checking their herd, hauling water, fixing fence, or moving cows to new pastures.
  6. Cattle ranchers rely heavily on public lands to provide feed for their animals while dairy farmers pay a very high price for quality hay and other feedstuffs. A carefully balanced ration for dairy cattle provides the energy and nutrients required to produce consistent, high quality milk. Beef cattle don’t need the high quality feed therefore, cattle ranchers can spend less money on feed.
  7. Both beef cattle and dairy cattle produce great sources of protein that we can include in our diet. Meat and dairy contain proteins that are essential for our body.
  8. Most importantly, dairy farmers and cattle ranches both work hours on end to put food on our tables.


I have loved growing up in an agricultural family, and I hope that I can use my background to educate others about agriculture and the health benefits we receive from farm fresh food. I encourage you to meet a farmer if possible. Thank them for providing the food on your table. Check out what they do every day and why they do it. I am so thankful that farmers and ranchers work hours on end to provide me and others with food. I will leave you with this…

“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher but every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.”

– Brenda Schoepp

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    You are right. City people think that it is a romantic life until they try it for one day. Historically, people wanted to leave the farm for the easy living in the city. As a city person(ancestors were into dairy) it is nice to see the countryside as a viewer, but not a doer(working on the farm).

    September 29, 2016 at 8:17 am

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