Sense of ownership, community and respect are key elements for feedlot employee retention, says Conquering the Labor, Hiring and Retention Battle panel speakers at the 2014 Feeding Quality Forum in Kearney, Neb.
John Schroeder with Darr Feedlot Inc., Cozad, Neb., says maintaining positive employee attitude is one of the factors in keeping good help at the feedlot. A classic example was the recently honored 2014 Arturo Armendariz Distinguished Service Award through the Cattle Feeders Hall of Fame nominee, Brad Thomas, a pen rider for Darr Feedlot. Thomas lost both arms in a farming accident as a young child and has continued to pursue his passion of working with horses and cattle, becoming a huge inspiration for the feedlot’s other 40+ employees, says Shroeder.
Darr Feedlot’s motto is, “Cattle are our business, but our people make the difference,” when Schroeder says keeping a family type relationship with employees is crucial. This is something Anne Burkholder, Will Feed, Inc., Cozad, Neb., also agrees with.
“There is not a single job on our operation that my employees do that I wouldn’t,” she says. “The boss has to work harder than the people you expect to work for you. It’s very important to obtain that level of respect for them to receive their respect and work ethic.”
Burkholder, a city girl with a degree in psychology, made her debut to the cattle feeding industry in the mid 90’s after marrying her husband, Matt. Anne focuses on the diversified operation’s feedlot, while her husband runs the crop side of the business.
Burkholder says one of the most successful ways she’s found to motivate employees is to provide opportunities to improve through internal and third-party audits.
“This is a very concrete way for my employees to track progress and manage themselves,” she says. “They want to know what they say and do matters,” adding that paying them adequately is essential to keeping good help.
When it comes to hiring, the panel agreed that word of mouth connection was a successful way of finding adequate employees.
“If we need to make a new hire, our best bet is through word of mouth with our employees,” Schroeder says. “This also helps in integrating the new hire into the feedlot if they already know someone.”
Schroeder also says it is not uncommon to receive employment inquiries from people who have found their website. Leighton Kolk, feedlot operator and ag employment service owner from Alberta, Canada, says he has seen a shift in the most efficient ways of locating people to work in the ag sector.
“Four to five years ago it was through local newspapers and magazine,” Kolk says. “Now it’s more through websites and even social media channels like Facebook.”
Kolk also says this has also been a result in easier ways for immigrants seeking work to reach out to potential employers. According to Kolk and Schroeder, the key to keeping immigrant employees is to give them a sense of community. This can include helping them find housing, churches and schools to even helping them adjust to the environment by making sure they have adequate weather appropriate work clothing.
Schroeder and Burkholder have also both had success in working with interns. Burkholder says she has mentored students for as little as a couple days to as long as a few months to help them learn more about the feedlot industry. Schroader also works with students, utilizing the University of Lincoln-Nebraska’s feedlot program to find potential fulltime employees.
Something the entire panel agreed on was the need for flexibility in working with an employee’s work abilities and to strive to keep a positive work environment, while placing an emphasis on safety and quality.
“Every job is important at every level,” concludes Schroeder.