by Ross Studer | March 4, 2020
Featured in Land Investor Volume 5
I have always been captivated by ranches and the characteristics that set a particular property apart from others. There are many important facets of ranch development and management such as improving habitat/rangeland quality, developing water, laying out residential improvements, and developing a wildlife management plan. All of these and more are important considerations for the enterprise to ultimately be productive, efficient, value-adding, and meet the owner’s objectives.
One particular aspect that is of utmost importance is a ranch’s road system. I like to think of a ranch’s road infrastructure as the nervous system of the ranch. Veins lead to different places throughout the body just as roads lead to different places on a ranch. The “healthier” the road system, the more efficient the “body” of the ranch becomes. From 30,000 feet, several positive outcomes of a “healthy” road infrastructure come to mind:
•Pasture Appeal: Well-thought-out road systems can enhance a ranch’s “pasture appeal.” Roads that follow along creeks or rivers, travel to the higher elevations, cross other water features, or make grand loops rather than dead ends add to what we like to call a nice “pasture appeal.”
•Value: A well planned and maintained road system adds value to the ranch, from both current enjoyment and a future sales perspective. A road system is used almost every time folks set out into the pasture, so it is important that the road is properly placed and is in the best condition possible. If future plans potentially include a sale, thoughtfully investing in the ranch’s road infrastructure is a good way to enhance its market value. A well-thought-out and maintained road system will provide a positive showing experience and directly improve marketability. We find that marketability is an extremely valuable contributor when trying to capture the top end of the value range for a ranch. Initial impressions are indeed important, whether to guests or prospective buyers; that first “vuelta” through the pasture needs to leave a positive impression.
•Usability: Working ranches and recreational ranches alike benefit from high-quality road infrastructure. Working ranches gain an edge when efficient. The faster hands can get from one pasture, project, drinker, or feeder to another, the more efficient daily ranch operations will be. From a recreational standpoint, the more easily traversed the roads are and the better coverage the road system provides of a ranch’s features, the more enjoyment the owners and guests will ultimately get from the land and recreational attributes. As ranch brokers, we drive a lot of ranches, and it is common for a prospective buyer to either comment directly on the road system or often, indirectly, on aspects of the road system that positively or negatively impact the experience of the tour of the ranch. For instance, making a particular road wind its way through towering trees, near scenic water features and elevated viewpoints versus a checkerboard grid of road systems makes a vast difference and can also make a ranch feel much larger.
In addition to the favorable aesthetics of a thoughtful road plan, ranch hands find it useful to have quality roads to get them from one location to another. Darren Carr, the Ranch Manager at Indianhead Ranch on the Devils River in Val Verde County, Texas, says, “Having quality roads is vitally important to our day to day ranch operations. The wear and tear on our work trucks caused by rough roads can lead to unproductive man-hours in the equipment shop fixing these work trucks. It really sets us back.”
Of course, one must always be mindful of over-improving a ranch. Road infrastructure, similar to residential improvements or even brush management projects, can move from the value-adding side to the burden side of the balance sheet if overdone or simply not well-thought-out.
There are many aspects aspects of ranch development and management that warrant thoughtful planning and implementation; from my point of view, ranch road infrastructure is one of the fundamental building blocks to having an efficient, enjoyable, and marketable property with value-adding pasture appeal.