Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Rancher

Jobs are as important for our characters as they are for real people. A character’s career might be their dream job or one they’ve chosen due to necessity. In your story, they might be trying to get that job or are already working in the field. Whatever the situation, as with any defining aspect for your character, you’ll need to do the proper research to be able to write that career knowledgeably.

Enter the Occupation Thesaurus. Here, you’ll find important background information on a variety of career options for your character. In addition to the basics, we’ll also be covering related info that relates to character arc and story planning, such as sources of conflict (internal and external) and how the job might impact basic human needs, thereby affecting the character’s goals. It’s our hope that this thesaurus will share some of your research burden while also giving you ideas about your character’s occupation that you might not have considered before.

Choosing the right occupation for your character: Ranching is a good choice, fraught with risk and danger

Occupation: Owning and overseeing a large tract of land primarily used for growing livestock (sheep, cows, horses, alpacas, emus, etc.)

Overview: Ranchers are responsible for the day-to-day operations of running a ranch. Their duties may include choosing which livestock to raise, breeding the animals, feeding and watering them, seeing to their physical health, hiring and overseeing the necessary personnel, selling livestock, and maintaining the ranch’s physical structures. They may also choose to raise crops that can be used on the ranch, so as feed products for the animals.

Necessary Training: Many ranches are family-owned, and the necessary skills are taught from one generation to the next. An outsider entering this career field might sign on with an existing ranch to gain experience, or they could take over an existing ranch and hire skilled workers to do the manual labor.

Useful Skills, Talents, or Abilities: A knack for making money, a way with animals, basic first aid, carpentry, exceptional memory, farming, haggling, mechanically inclined, multitasking, predicting the weather, repurposing, sharpshooting, super strength, survival skills, whittling, wilderness navigation

Helpful Character Traits: Adaptable, adventurous, alert, ambitious, calm, cooperative, courageous, disciplined, focused, gentle, independent, mature, nature-focused, nurturing, observant, organized, patient, persistent, resourceful, sensible

Sources of Friction: An illness spreading through the herd, a disease spreading through the area that specifically attacks one’s livestock (such as an avian or porcine disease), a predator preying on the animals, poachers, one’s land being taken away (by the government, because of a highway going through, etc.), an accident befalling a careless worker, the animals being mistreated by workers, financial difficulties, a drought or famine, social or cultural changes that make one’s livestock or their byproducts undesirable (the Vegan lifestyle becoming more popular and making beef an unwanted commodity, studies being published that show that cheese is actually bad for you, etc.), strife between family members about how the ranch should be run, bad PR (word getting out that the ranch was acquired through unethical means, people protesting the treatment of one’s animals, etc.)

People They Might Interact With: ranch workers, family members who live on the ranch, veterinarians, farriers, inspectors, delivery people, breeders, customers seeking to buy the livestock or their byproducts

How This Occupation Might Impact One’s Basic Needs:

  • Self-Actualization: A character’s self-actualization might be affected if they’re working the farm out of a sense of duty, rather than because they really want to—if it was a family business, for instance.
  • Esteem and Recognition: A rancher’s esteem could take a hit if they’re really awful at certain aspects of job and are being shown up by their workers. Someone with a growth mindset would likely learn and grow from their employees, but a rancher who is more fixed could internalize his failures and begin to doubt his abilities.
  • Safety and Security: A situation impacting the rancher’s safety or security might be a disease that spreads easily between livestock and humans or a scenario in which once-docile animals become violent toward the people caring for them.
  • Physiological Needs: If one’s survival depends on the ranch’s success, a threat to that success could threaten their physiological needs, making it all-important for them to do well.

Common Work-Related Settings: Barn, campsite, country road, county fair, farm, farmer’s market, ghost town (old west), hunting cabin, meadow, mountains, old pick-up truck, orchard, pasture, pond, ranch, river, slaughterhouse, small town street

Twisting the Stereotype: Again, ranchers are typically portrayed as men. A woman rancher might be just the ticket for providing a twist on this stereotype. Also, because ranches are usually family-owned businesses, the people running them are typically familiar with the setting. What about someone from the outside taking over, or a group of ranches being run by a co-op?


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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4 Responses to Occupation Thesaurus Entry: Rancher

  1. Cathryn Cade says:

    Becca, Great post as always!
    Here are some more ways to authenticate Western ranchers –
    Clothing – Western men wear jeans to nearly every occasion. Dressing up, likely to wear a nice shirt with western-cut jacket over jeans and boots. Lace-up cowboy boots have become very popular for work, while the traditional pull-ons are more for dress.
    Hats – baseball cap or felt cowboy hat in winter, straw hat in summer. Sunglasses a must on plains, where the sunlight is brilliant.
    Leather work gloves to protect hands.
    Transportation – Horses are romantic, but four-wheelers are efficient for traveling the ranch, carrying equipment to fence, etc, and for rounding up & herding livestock.
    Speech – for crying out loud in the morning, study the speech of chosen state or region. Go there, talk to the natives, or at least hang out in cafes, hardware store, wherever and listen. Westerners have laconic speech, dry wit and the men commonly do not curse in front of women. They are likely to address a negative situation with a stranger in a roundabout way, and respond to Eastern bluntness by closing off both verbally and with body language.
    Humor – again, dry and laconic. Western ranchers find newcomers questions and beliefs about ranching and cowboys highly amusing, although they are likely to be polite and laugh later.
    Water – the Pac & Inland NW including the Rocky Mts, have the best artesian water in the world. The natives might have bottled water on hand for dudes, but not themselves. If out camping in area with plentiful ground water, they will likely have a thermos/flask with a water filter (look on REI or website to learn about these).
    Conversely, on the Great Plains, parts of E Montana, and parts of Dakotas and Wyoming have terrible water, full of sulfur etc. Some ranches there have drinking water trucked in, and will find bottled water highly useful.
    Take what you like, leave the rest!

  2. a great book about a female rancher in the 1800’s is The Husband Tree by Mary Connealy. Mary does a good job of showing the hardships of ranch life from the perspective of a woman with young girls and no father around.

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