Want your own little slice of Crawford? Ranch properties come in three sizes: big, superbig, and I-own-the-whole-county huge. They range from several hundred to several hundred thousand acres, and the cost can vary widely--ranch land in the Gaddises' neck of the woods goes for $2,000 to $5,000 an acre. Prices are higher ($10,000 an acre and above) where land is scarce, near major towns and popular vacation spots such as Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Aspen, Colo.; and Paradise Valley, Mont. Often, larger parcels of land with picturesque views of the horizon and lower per-acre costs can be found in more remote locations. But, points out James Rinehart, a partner at Western United Realty in Laramie, Wyo., it can also mean driving more than an hour just to get to a hardware store or, more important, a hospital.
Into the bovine thing? A typical ranch can handle from 2 to 15 beef cattle per 100 acres--more where the grazing is good, such as Amarillo, Texas, eastern Montana, and the Sandhills region of Nebraska. Commercial beef cattle, including breeds such as Hereford, Angus, and Charolais, can be bought for about $1,500 each, and taking care of them runs about $300 to $500 a year per animal, estimates Jim Taylor, managing director of Hall & Hall, a ranch brokerage with offices in the Rockies. For a ranch with fewer than 500 animals, you can hire a full-time ranch manager for about $30,000 to $50,000 a year. The salary can reach $90,000 for bigger ranches.
After breeding cattle, most ranchers sell the calves for $600 to $700 each to a feedlot where they are fattened up on grain and corn for the slaughter. If you want to spare them the feedlot, there's a growing demand for grass-fed beef, which produces leaner meat. On that diet, it takes several months longer to raise cattle to slaughtering size. Most cattle ranches aren't profitable until they have a herd of at least 1,000, says Taylor, because of large fixed costs of up to $50,000 for tractors, hay balers, fertilizer rigs, and other equipment.