Those who have been raised in agriculture know that it is often referred to as more of a lifestyle than a career. Traditional ranch life is associated with long hours, working dawn to dusk, seven days a week, and doing so with a passion for the land and livestock that provides for one’s livelihood. Work becomes what defines the ranching lifestyle.
However, attracting employees into an environment where the line between work and family balance is blurry can be challenging to achieve, especially in times when younger generations are seeking more separation from their work. James Sewell, ranch manager of TA Ranch near Saratoga, Wyo., strives to create that ever-important balance for his six full-time employees, yet still achieve the many tasks each day brings forward. Sewell shares four tips that have proven productive for the beef cow-calf ranching enterprise he manages and its employees.
1. Create a regular work schedule
“At the TA Ranch we aim to work from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Saturday is limited to checking water and fixing major issues and chores on Sunday are kept to a bare minimum,” says Sewell. With hustle, the best way to describe the ranch motto, the goal is not to do work hastily, but rather come to work ready to go and with a mindset to accomplish each task properly and efficiently, in order to not take unnecessary time away from family and friends.
Sewell has learned if an employee knows they are working every weekend, there is little incentive for them to hustle and be attentive come Monday morning. Even though some employees don’t balk at working long hours, a regular work schedule means the bulk of the ranch work is done during the week. Tired, overworked, and stressed-out employees lead to grumpy, unproductive employees and this attitude rubs off on the effectiveness of the goals set for the ranch, he explains.
2. Do first things first
Achieving a regular work schedule means having a plan in place and following it through. “Knowing what major activities need to be done each workday ensures the most important tasks get done.” Planning also means supplies needed are on hand, thus, no time is wasted scrambling to be prepared. Allowing the workday to drag on only steals time away from leisure and family activities.
Following the 80/20 rule common in the business world, Sewell’s team attacks the most important jobs first each day, believing by doing so, the result is a greater outcome. “Understanding around a ranch, many things can come up or not go as expected but aiming to achieve that important task (the 20%) you will end up achieving even more (the 80%).” Minor tasks are then fit in either between gaps throughout the day between major projects or at the end of the day.
3. Involve the family
The TA Ranch has been flexible in allowing employees’ children to come to work when appropriate, although always keeping the safety of the child at the forefront. Young children are sometimes found accompanying their parents on tasks such as checking irrigation systems, hauling cattle, or riding along during weekend chores. Older children assist with larger roles such as branding, longer cattle drives, and maybe take a seasonal role as summer help.
“This flexibility allows the employee to have additional quality time with their children and makes doing chores on weekends feel less like work,” says the ranch manager. Rather, it is an opportunity to teach the children about what Dad does and about agriculture, potentially building their interest to choose a future in agriculture or at minimum carry with them a valuable skill set and work ethic. It is not uncommon to have employees live on the ranch site or nearby. With ranches in remote or rural areas, the employees spend a lot of time together, becoming like a large extended family.
4. Foster a balanced mindset
Sometimes ranch days are stressful, like caring for cattle during a snowstorm, hauling water during droughts, or frustrations with co-workers or even the boss. Encouraging employees to have the time to dig into other interests or hobbies has proven to provide the balance or distraction they need.
Sewell believes achievements outside of work, where employees can focus additional energy, gain new skills, practice a hobby, or be involved in their children’s school or community activities, helps self-care by reducing stress and frustrations that may be associated with their work-related activities.
These tips have proven to work for the team at the TA Ranch, but the bottom line is a ranch manager needs to determine the schedule, the culture, and the values they want to be associated with the ranch, and communicate these openly with employees during the hiring process. Not every applicant will be a fit, but being clear, honest, and upfront from day one helps to create a positive experience for all involved.
B. Lynn Gordon is a freelance writer from Sioux Falls, S.D.