In 1971, the year Mike McMillan first walked onto the Monfort’s North Lot outside Greeley, Colo., to work as a cattle checker, Apollo 14 landed on the moon. With the war in Vietnam raging, President Nixon declared the U.S. War on Drugs. Boxer Joe Frazier defeated Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden, and Archie Bunker was testing the patience of his wife Edith on TV’s "All in the Family".
Over the next 42 years, McMillan mastered just about every skill and task in the cattle-feeding business, rose through the ranks and adapted to change within the organization that shifted from Monfort to ConAgra to Conti Beef and, most recently, to JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding. He’s weathered those ownership changes and seen managers come and go, and throughout it all maintained a focus on the animals and feedyard operations.
During the 1970s, McMillan put himself through school while working full-time at the feedyard, completing an associate of applied science degree from Aims Community College and a bachelor’s degree in managerial science from the University of Northern Colorado.
Craig Turner, safety and training manager at the company’s Kersey, Colo., lot, recalls McMillan’s work ethic during those days. “We worked the night shift together in the ‘70s when Mikey and I were going to college,” he says. “We took turns studying, did our hourly checks, cleaned the office, unloaded corn and cattle trucks, fed new cattle, moved up fats, etc. Mike would get in the grader on his own, and by morning the main alley, parking lots and feed alleys would be smoother than the Bonneville Salt Flats.”
McMillan worked at several of the Monfort lots and served multiple roles over the years. He checked cattle, practiced welding, painting and carpentry, scraped pens, filled and packed bunker silos, read feedbunks, repaired equipment and trained employees in all aspects of feedyard operations. He served as assistant yard supervisor at the company’s Yuma, Colo., yard in 1990 before returning to the flagship Kuner yard near Greeley in 1991 to serve in a similar capacity. JBS Five Rivers managers credit him with helping guide a recent remodeling project that transformed the Kuner lot into one of the most efficient, environmentally sound and cattle-friendly feedyards in the country.
All the while, McMillan gained the respect and admiration of his coworkers across the organization. They describe him as a tough Marine Corps veteran who served combat tours in Vietnam, who also had a big heart and compassion toward his coworkers. Several of today’s top managers and executives within the JBS Five Rivers organization credit him as a mentor.