Sprawling fields, endless meadows, acres of terrain, and the beauty of wildlife roaming. Searching for a place that stands in stark contrast to a familiar urban jungle isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Some of the biggest ranches in the world offer a picturesque experience that is unlike any other. In these areas, it’s easy to imagine how life may have been during the good old days of the Wild West—difficult and intense, albeit majestic. Today, the largest ranches in the world celebrate the unique beauty of life beyond concrete streets and high rise buildings.
Several ranches among this list protect various endangered species and they have served as a home in solitude for many others. Curious to know more about the biggest ranches in the world? First, let’s talk a little more about what a ranch is and how they’re qualified. Fair warning: this article is packed with mind-blowing details on some of the largest ranches found around the globe. From landmass to wildlife, ranches are a world apart from morning traffic and a nine-to-five job.
What Is a Ranch?
If you didn’t grow up roaming the open plains and sleeping under the stars, you might have trouble knowing exactly what a ranch is. Many people confuse a ranch with a farm, but there is a bit of a difference. Ranches raise animals whereas farms are dedicated to crops and producing food. It can get tricky because they often overlap. More precisely, farms are a tract of land devoted to agriculture and ranches are a large farm for raising bison, cattle, goats, horses, pigs, sheep, etc. In this list of the biggest ranches in the world, there are a few that include exotic animals such as alpaca, elk, emu, ostriches, and even wolves. Similarly, geographic regions often dictate types of ranches. While we’re mostly accustomed to cowboy outlook and cattle raising, ranching in South America, for example, expands beyond grasslands into rain forests.
What Is Ranching?
With the exception of Antarctica, ranches exist on every continent around the world. Australia, South America, North America, and Africa are some of the more prolific continents that depend on ranching and ranchers to raise necessary livestock. Ranching is the practice of raising livestock and wildlife to provide meat, dairy, products, and raw materials for fabrics. Ranching, on a large scale, can improve rangeland and plant biodiversity. In another light, some ranches, most often named dude ranches, offer tourist facilities. Dude ranches allow guests to help out in real ranching activities, while others focus on horseback riding, trail rides, and even hunting.
Who Owns Them?
One interesting tidbit about these ranches is that they’re not all owned by cowboys. They’re big investments, and a lot of the people holding the deeds are rich folk who spend more time in boardrooms than on horses. The American who owns the most land is John Malone, a big shot in the cable business, and he’s followed by another media man, Ted Turner. These two seem to have a friendly competition on who can own more acres! Also among the top 10 is Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. Other notable figures and conservationists have adopted ranches in other regions throughout the world. Douglas Tompkins, co-founder of The North Face and ESPRIT, and his wife, Kristine Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. own a ranch in Chile, called Fundo Los Leones.
Public lands also dominate the landscape of the rural West in the United States. In some areas, federal land exceed 80 percent of the total land in the state. This means that ranching frequently requires the leasing of public land. What are some of the largest ranches in the world, though? We’re reviewing a select few below.
Vermejo Park Ranch
Location: Colorado and New Mexico, U.S.A.
Land Size: 590,823 acres
Other Features: 19 fishable lakes, 1,200+ Bison, on-property spa services, 30 miles of pristine streams
It’s easiest to start this list off with something local, even though this one only has a small part in Colorado. It’s one of the spots owned by Ted Turner, and it’s so big that it sprawls across state borders from New Mexico north through Colorado. As one of the biggest ranches in the world, Vermejo Park Ranch covers 590,823 acres. It’s primarily used for conservation and recreational activities, but it does offer hunting, fishing, and natural gas collection. This amazing ranch is open to the public and even offers exclusive accommodations with its many cottages, eco-friendly mountaintop lodges, and mansions. This property is known for hosting workshops, tours, and even seasonal festivals such as the October Harvest Festival.
Explore the many activities on Vermejo Park Ranch and all that northern New Mexico and Colorado has to offer.
Location: Texas, U.S.A.
Land Size: 520,527 acres
Other Features: Raises and sells cattle and horses
Another massive ranch in the United States unsurprisingly sits in Texas. This one got its start back in 1852, and over time it grew to about 520,527 acres. It’s been in the news a lot over the past few years because it was sold back in 2012. Even with the asking price of $725 million, Stan Kroenke, the owner of two sports teams in Denver, bought it in 2012. The W.T. Waggoner Estate stretches into six counties, with headquarters in Vernon, Texas. The main purpose of Waggoner Ranch is ranching, oil, and approximately 26,000 acres of cultivation. The ranch itself employs approximately 96 people ranging from cowboys, farm hands, oil fields workers, and office staff.
Location: South Texas, U.S.A.
Land Size: 825,000 acres
Other Features: Multiple land use including ranching, farming, and thoroughbred raising
Those ranches are big, but they can get bigger. King Ranch comes in at about 825,000 acres, and this makes it the biggest ranch in Texas. The ranch is located in south Texas between Corpus Christi and Brownsville. Unfortunately, it’s not as amazing as you would first expect. Instead of one massive area full of cows roaming around, it’s split into four neighboring parts. As a more modern ranch, King Ranch has a variety of business operations including:
- Ranching and raising cattle
- Quarter horses
- Nursery business
- Hardware store
- King Ranch Saddle Shop
King Ranch also has extensive operations in Florida. There, it is involved in sugar cane, sod, sweet corn, green bean, and specialty lettuce production and farming. In all, King Ranch is often considered the birthplace of ranching in North American and operates, today, in ranching, farming, retail, and more.
Anna Creek Station
Land size: 2M Acres
Other features: 9,500 cattle
Australians use a different vocabulary word to describe a ranch. In this country, ranches are referred to as stations. Anna Creek Station is one of the largest ranches in the world sitting at over 2,000,000 acres). Accurately, it has been dubbed the world’s largest working cattle station. Anna King Stations has a blend of sandhill country with swamps and large areas of gibber tableland.
Interestingly enough, it was first started as a place to raise sheep. Unfortunately, the dingoes were eating too many of them, so they switched to the much more durable cow.
Land size: 4M Acres
Other features: 200,000 cattle
If you truly want to be a modern-day cowboy or cowgirl, you might want to take a trip down under. For the last 140 years, the North Australian Pastoral Company has been crafting the finest quality beef for the Australian region. Its landmass crosses Queensland and the Northern Territory, as well. In 2009, NAPCo entered into a formal partnership with Bush Heritage Australia to support conservation initiatives across 14 North Australian and Queensland properties. They’ve dedicated sections of three properties as Nature Refuge, attempting to strengthen the lands’ biodiversity, productivity, and carbon density.
Mudanjiang City Dairy Farm
Location: Heilongjiang, China
Land size: 22.5M Acres
Other features: 100,000 cattle
This is a dairy farm instead of a classical ranch, but it still is impressive because that capacity is far bigger than any ranch in North America. The farm was only recently established in 2015 as a response to the Russian ban on dairy products to the EU. This ranch farm specializes in dairy and has around 100,000 cows, three times bigger than the largest livestock ranch in the US. The ranch can produce 800M liters of milk a year. In comparison, Fair Oaks, Indiana in the United States is the largest dairy farm with nearly 30,000 cows.
Location: South Africa
Land size: 200,000 Acres
Other features: Home to more than 79 species of mammals
Billionaire Nicky Oppenheimer of De Beers diamond owns one of the biggest ranches in the world. Tsawalu Kalahari is a private area in the Northern Cape, South Africa. It is effectively South Africa’s largest private game reserve covering over 200,000 acres. It is also a world-class conservation initiative for a vulnerable ecosystem. Here you can find the black-maned lion, oryx, aardvark, and meerkats. Its purpose servers ecologists and researches for strides in wildlife preservation.
Largest Ranch in the World
What is on the top of the chart to take the title of the largest ranch in the world? The answer is subjective. Whether you’re discussing land mass per square acre or the largest privately owned ranch, there are several different options. By definition, Tswalu Kalahari is the largest ranch that provides a purpose to care and protect wildlife with the safety of refuge in this South African ranch. In terms of land size, King Ranch out of Texas may take the title. Australian Ranches are also some of the largest by landmass size, but may not be as diverse as other ranches found throughout the globe. There are other types of ranches, too, like dude ranches that are becoming more popular as glamping takes mainstream by storm.
Largest Ranch in Texas
Making a list of the biggest ranches in the world would be a moot point if not for the great state of Texas. As one of the largest states in America, Texas has an abundance of open land that can serve the purpose of ranching. Not to mention, Texas is known for its cowboy heritage and amazing country music. However, the clear winner of the largest ranch in Texas is definitely King Ranch. Sitting at nearly 825,000 acres, its landmass is larger than the state of Rhode Island. It is home to 35,000 cattle and over 200 Quarter Horses. It also offers a diversity in its business practices with shops, hardware stores, cattle, and thoroughbred selling, and farming in both Texas and Florida.
Preserving the Land
These large ranches around the world are big business, there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s inspiring to think that some of the biggest landowners buy up land in order to preserve it. This is a nice step towards making sure we always have those wide-open spaces we love so much.
Is It Time to Be a Rancher?
Now that you know there are such big tracts of land where cowboys and cowgirls are spending their days exploring with cattle, does it make you want to make a lifestyle change? You have plenty of options! If you don’t, you can always come by the Grizzly Rose when you want to get into the spirit of the Wild West!