People. Planet. Profit. That’s the necessary three-part recipe for a successful and sustainable ranch in the eyes of Wayne Fahsholtz, president and CEO of Padlock Ranch.
Nestled between the Big Horn Mountains and the mixed prairies of eastern Montana and Wyoming, Padlock Ranch was started in 1943 by Homer and Mildred Scott with 3,000 acres near Dayton, Wyo. Over the past 70 years, it has changed size and shape and today covers approximately 475,000 acres with more than 10,000 head of cattle. Fahsholtz, the first non-family CEO, has dedicated his career to ranching and has managed the day-to-day operations since 2002.
Managing a large operation requires a team of employees who believe in the mission of the ranch. Fahsholtz says it did not happen overnight, but by caring for the land and its resources, hiring the right people and communicating with consumers, and focusing on profitability, a company culture has been developed to enable Padlock Ranch to succeed.
Caring for the land
Padlock Ranch is divided into different divisions, including a feedlot, a farming operation that provides feed for the feedlot, and the ranch, which is further divided into multiple range divisions. Fahsholtz works closely with the specific range managers who oversee the grazing programs to develop a plan for each range division based on past performance and current conditions.
Utilizing a time-controlled grazing system, Fahsholtz says at Padlock they try to graze specific pastures at different times each year to improve range health. “It’s not healthy for a pasture if you only come in the spring, for example, so we try to rotate the time of use around and move cattle every few weeks on the range.”
Grazing through pastures rapidly during the growing season and coming back through when cool-season plants have matured allows Padlock to leave litter on the soil surface, which helps reduce soil temperature and maintain a higher level of soil moisture. This system has been designed following best management practices in an effort to protect riparian areas, protect wildlife habitat and promote good water management.
In the aftermath of a fire that consumed 85,000 acres at Padlock in 2012, Fahsholtz says even though grazing flexibility was taken away, the ranch avoided having a “fire sale” and dispersing cows because they closely followed a grazing plan. “By having moved the cattle frequently, a number of our pastures had recovered so we weaned calves immediately, and we were able to put cattle on some pastures we had already used going into the fall. This didn’t hurt our pastures and it provided feed for our cows.”
Fahsholtz says if the land is healthy and the cows are doing well, wildlife naturally benefits. “We believe that if we can graze in a manner that promotes habitat and if the wildlife species that should be here are here, then we are doing what we set out to do.”
As a recipient of the 2013 Leopold Conservation Award in Wyoming and as a regional winner in the 2013 Environmental Stewardship Award Program, sponsored by Dow AgroSciences, USDANRCS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, others have recognized the commitment to conservation at Padlock.
It’s all about the people
The next leg Fahsholtz’s three-legged stool of sustainability revolves around people. Hiring the right people and providing a traditional ranch lifestyle for its employees are priorities at Padlock, but Fahsholtz says communicating and interacting with consumers about where their food is grown is also a key.
Hiring competent and dedicated people is just the first step at Padlock. Fahsholtz says employee turnover is low and that training and educating full-time employees, part-time help and summer interns about Padlock philosophies, proper cattle-handling techniques and other practices is equally important. He says this is part of the ranch’s overall commitment to continuous improvement. At the time Fahsholtz was interviewed for this article, low-stress cattle-handling expert Whit Hibbard was on the ranch observing employees and offering suggestions for cattle-handling improvement while they weaned calves and worked in the feedlot.
Focusing on people does not stop at the ranch gates. During a visit with grocery stores and retailers when he served as chairman of Country National Beef, Fahsholtz says the topic of Facebook came up in conversation. He was told by grocers and retailers that he needed to join Facebook because people were asking where their meat comes from. Fahsholtz took their advice, starting with an account on Facebook, which today has more than 1,700 fans, and has grown into a presence on Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
Social media is just one tool Fahsholtz says Padlock uses to communicate with consumers. It comes down to a willingness to be transparent and to show a little bit about what is going on, according to Fahsholtz.
Padlock offers working ranch-vacation opportunities as well as vacation opportunties focused on fishing and hunting, and photography. Padlock also hosts educational tours on the ranch. “It’s really hard to measure how much good comes out of a particular visit, but I am willing to show the ranch to almost anyone who has an interest in coming. When they see the streams with clean water and fisheries that we care about and cattle are still right there, it’s a different picture than what they may have had when they arrived.” He knows all visitors may not go away 100 percent convinced that what Padlock is doing is great, but it can’t hurt, he says.
Earning a profit
Last but not least is profitability. According to Fahsholtz, none of the rest is possible without profit and having a financially viable ranch. According to the ranch’s website, profit allows for growth and improvement and is necessary for reinvestment in land, livestock, machinery and job opportunities that makes the Padlock Ranch known for its quality, not for its size.
Sustainability means different things to different people, but Fahsholtz says we have to continue doing as good a job as possible and then allow others to see what we’re doing and how we’re affecting the land and our people. At Padlock it’s all about three simple words. Planet. People. Profit.
For more information about Padlock Ranch, visit padlockranch.com.