There’s nothing like the view from the back of a horse. It’s a view Katie Williams of Grand View, Idaho, sees day in and day out, yet the magnitude of what it means is never far from her mind.
Williams is one of a select few—a new generation trailblazer who’s changing the tide within the beef industry. Reinforced by the positive foundations built through a family firmly tethered to ranch living, Williams has rapidly ascended into a management role cowboys and cow-girls alike dream of.
Through hard work, passion and integrity, she has risen to ranch operations specialist for Simplot Land and Livestock, the second largest cow-calf operation in North America, at just 31 years of age. This immense net-work encompasses 13 ranches spread across four states and is home to 30,000 cows. Her position requires a tool belt overflowing with superior management skills while using traditional and nontraditional production methods. Not only does she oversee and coordinate the logistics of a massive ranching network, she does a lot of work from the back of a horse.
While there is no typical day on the ranch, she says, “We find our-selves horseback a lot. We check cows every day, and it’s never the same ones. With 30,000 cows to care for, we spend a significant amount of time trying to see them all.”
Maintaining ties to the roman-tic cowboy heritage is something Willaims and the Simplot Land and Livestock team are very committed to and forthcoming about.
“We are very much a neo-traditional ranching operation. We are anchored in the buckaroo lifestyle, yet continue to steadily advance with technological integration. Our goal is to be as efficient and forward-thinking as possible, while keeping horsemanship and the traditional buckaroo style of ranching as a part of our daily routine,” Williams says.
“We prefer an old-fashioned ranch branding where every calf is roped and properly cared for by our team of cattlemen and women. Every one of us is passionate about what we do. It’s deeply embedded in our roots,” she adds. “That being said, we continually invest in new technologies, such as electronic ID tags and handheld readers to assist with data capture, records and analysis.”
In addition to hours spent on horseback, Williams works on a multitude of management tasks from a centralized office. With so many moving parts, she must stay in close communication with each individual ranch manager. An operation the size and scope of Simplot requires a substantial amount of strategic planning and coordination to orchestrate the weaning and aggregation of 30,000 calves on ranches spread across Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Utah.
“We generally start weaning calves and pregnancy checking cows around Labor Day,” Williams says. “It will take us right up to the first weekend in November to finish, and that’s at a pace of working almost every day.”
Williams assists in the direction and coordination of all ranch activities to obtain optimum efficiency and economy. In addition to collaborating with the Simplot team of ranch managers on weaning, budgets and safety, she must also help facilitate the smooth transition of each herd to their respective Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permits for seasonal grazing periods.
Those aspects of management were ingrained into her by her father, Mark Williams, who managed the historic ZX Ranch in southeastern Oregon for 37 years. The ZX has been a part of the Simplot network since 1994 and consists of approximately 1.5 million acres in five different counties. It is the nucleus for 11,000 head of the Simplot herd. Katie was born and raised on the ZX and credits her early life lessons with shaping her work ethic and training her to be a leader.
“We were always up early and doing chores as kids, with expectations to be punctual and ready for school,” she says. “We were raised to work hard and prove our worth through actions, not words.”
“I knew this position would require I prove my metal,” she adds. “Many of the employees I manage have been in ranching a lot longer than me. I understand they might not have an immediate level of respect for some-one my age, especially my sex. The tradition of male dominated leader-ship in our industry makes being a female manager that much tougher.
“Fortunately, I have a competitive streak within me that runs deep, driving me to prove that I belong. I made it my goal to out-work and out-rope everyone. In my mind, this was the only way to demonstrate I was serious about my job and I genuinely wanted to be part of the team. My father taught me to lead by example. That’s why I will never ask some-one to do something I wouldn’t do myself,” Williams says.
Fair access and competition for quality leadership roles are growing trends throughout the beef industry, even all the way back to the ranch. This changing tide is cultivating excitement for cattle-women, like Williams, who dream of opportunities in ranching, cattle feeding and the multitude of other existing beef industry niches.