How to become a good ranch employee, even if you’re the boss

How to become a good ranch employee, even if you’re the boss

Most articles on the subject of “good employees” look at ranch management from the manager’s perspective. But what about the other way around? If the title makes you think that you don’t need to read it because you are self-employed or you are the manager who is looking for those good employees, consider this:

  • The self-employed are working for themselves. Some of them don’t have a very good boss. Some of them aren’t very good employees.
  • Most self-employed people are owner-operators. Even if you are a crew of one, you still have others to please—family members, bankers, government agencies, etc.
  • If you are the manager of a larger operation, it’s very possible that you once were an entry level employee. Don’t get the idea that you are a finished product. Even though you are the boss at one level, you may have a boss at a higher level. And, even if you are the top dog, you still have others to please.
  • Life-long learning and continuous improvement are mandatory for all of us if we want to be competitive and successful. While not every farmer and rancher is trying to improve and get better, many of our neighbors are trying their best to make continuous improvement. So, let’s all work at becoming better employees. 

Becoming a good employee begins with some thorough, honest self-evaluation:

  • Do you really want to farm or ranch? 
  • Do you have the aptitude, work ethic, passion and integrity to be successful at it? They are all necessary. 
  • Are you teachable? This implies two things—an attitude and an aptitude. If you can cultivate the attitude to be teachable, to be a learner, the aptitude will probably follow. A former colleague and great manager, Paul Genho, once told me that when he discovered that if something could be learned, he could learn it; and that made a great difference for him. He wasn’t just applying that to himself. If something can be learned, most people can learn it with appropriate application of time, energy and thought. Most of the things we need to learn to be successful in our business aren’t that difficult to learn.
  • Can you follow? And, can you lead when that is needed? I often designated employees—even entry level—to lead some projects or activities. 
  • Do you know the level of management to which you aspire? Do you really want the higher level job or just the title and pay without the managerial activities, duties and responsibilities? You can’t get the new title and accept the pay without performing the functions. It’s not the same old job even though some of the activities are and you are working with the same cattle and land.
  • With frank and honest answers to the foregoing questions, you can make a good choice of the type of position you should direct your life-long learning toward. One of my foremen once told me that he didn’t want to advance any further in position because he would have to burn his saddle; and he didn’t want to do that. He did, however, want to be always improving as a foreman; and that he did.

 Another told me he didn’t want my job—too much desk and computer time and not enough cow and grass time. I could see his point. On most of our farms and ranches, regardless of size, these positions or job responsibilities seem to blend from one level of management to another. The managerial tasks must be done. The production work must be done. Having the right person doing the right job is important. Strategic solutions and decisions should come as a result of good analysis and receiving input from everyone.

One more question to answer is “Are you looking for a job or a career?” Too many young people, college graduates even, are looking for “jobs” that will allow them to stay close to home, family and friends. In some parts of the country that might work well; but in many areas you will be limited to little selection, poor advancement opportunities, mediocre pay and serious career limitations. On the other hand, if that job can be a stepping stone, you could use it to great advantage. In any event, the job should be done as well as you can learn to do it.

In my own case, after obtaining a master’s degree in agricultural economics with an emphasis on farm and ranch management, I knew I wanted to be a ranch manager. Even though I had been ranch raised and had worked for as long as I could remember, no one was ready to hire me as a manager fresh out of college. And they shouldn’t have been, even though I thought I was experienced enough and ready. 

hard working ranchers gallery

70 photos show ranchers hard at work on the farm
Readers have submitted photos of hard-working ranchers caring for their livestock and being stewards of the land. See reader favorite  photos here.

 

So, I started to look for stepping-stone jobs. I got one in the artificial insemination business. It was almost made to order. I was now able to combine my business training at the universities with animal science. I was immediately put in touch with some of the best animal scientists in America. I adopted several as long term mentors; and they seemed to be quite willing. 

I have often said that my first two years out of college at least doubled my education. After about three years, I got that first ranch general manager job—still too inexperienced. But, a great management mentor and seeing lots of successful ranches during those three years enabled me to put together a good team which helped me be successful and start a wonderful and productive career.

To be considered a good employee, you should have or quickly develop the skills necessary to do the job well. If you start with honesty, integrity, work ethic, a reasonable intellect and passion for the work or vision of the business, you can learn the skills necessary and come to understand what makes the business work. The following are suggestions to make you more valuable:

  • Become a life-long learner. Be a sponge for new ideas, information, techniques and advances in the science.
  • If you are still in high school or university, don’t avoid the tough classes—biology, chemistry, soils, accounting, economics, finance, etc. These are foundational for understanding an agricultural business. They are also a lot easier to learn with an instructor to help you understand the hard parts.
  • Become a better communicator—read, write, speak and listen. These skills will help you at all levels; and, if you move to a managerial position, they will help you with all your relationships—co-workers, vendors, customers, bankers, agencies, regulators, etc.
  • Don’t be a jerk. No one wants to work for or with a jerk at any level or in any relationship. Try to become the kind of person that others will respect, seek out and want to work with.
  • Learn all you can about soils, good grazing and low stress animal handling. Don’t assume you know unless or until you have studied extensively, visited others who have had great success and are known to do it well. If your current employer won’t let you use the knowledge and skills, be patient, someone will.

Burke Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at [email protected]

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