Feedlot Grows Without Losing Original Vision

Growing a feedlot from 6,000-head capacity to more than 60,000 is no easy task, even for the best in the business. For Easterday Ranches manager Sam Cossio, the expansion highlighted the need to train staff as cattle industry professionals so the business can flourish — all while leaving the organization’s vision intact.

“It was important for us not to turn into a big corporation,” Cossio says. “We believe that what we do only works because of the way we do it. We believe in our people skills, and that is what we wanted to continue to grow.”

The Pasco, Wash.-based operation began experiencing growing pains due to a large expansion during a five-year period. While growth was good for the business, Cossio noticed that managing the change was taking a real toll on him, the managers and the employees.

“During the expansion, I found myself losing control of knowing my guys,” Cossio says. “We went from 30 employees to 60, and all of the sudden I only really knew 30 of them.”

As the feedlot continued to develop, Easterday Ranches incorporated a new facility 40 miles away.  The choice for Cossio was clear: either hire managers from outside the ranch or develop the current staff into more senior roles. Investment in his team was the best solution, but he recognized that the crew needed additional management and communication skills to be successful.

“Everything was a little bit disorganized, and people weren’t communicating well with each other,” Cossio says. “Our people needed more. If you’re an employee of a company that is growing, you want to grow with it.”

That is when Cossio learned about the PeopleFirst™ service — a program designed to help middle and front-line managers of livestock operations develop leadership and organizational skills that help create cultures of higher engagement, consistent performance and increased productivity.

“We wanted to make professionals out of our employees, rather than just settling for a feedlot worker,” Cossio says. “Even though we didn’t go to school, this is our profession and this is what we do. It’s a big difference in working because we love it instead of just working for the money.”

To be effective leaders and personnel managers, Cossio knew his team needed to develop superior leadership and supervisory skills, which is what the PeopleFirst service is designed to do.

In May 2011, Easterday Ranches hired PeopleFirst to design a customized program and consult with them in the area of leadership and organizational development. After a thorough evaluation of different departments and interviews with key leaders and employees in the organization, Cossio was able to select which employees would benefit most from the training module.  

Cossio targeted the employees most deserving of the extra opportunity and those who had expressed interest in becoming a manager. This allowed him to reward long-term employees and set others on a path for a successful future at Easterday Ranches.

“The goal was to build a management team that eventually would be ready for more,” Cossio says. “I wanted to build a team that, if we are to expand again, we will have employees that are ready to take on more responsibility.”

One hurdle the operation wanted to overcome was a language barrier. While the professional PeopleFirst instructors are experienced in multicultural workforce training, Cossio felt it also was important for the selected employees to be fluent in English — which meant additional training. Separate from PeopleFirst, Easterday was happy to offer supplementary language education to select employees to further enhance communication skills.

“We hired personal instructors to teach them English,” Cossio says. “They are now fully bilingual and have a lot more skills. With their new skills, it is more realistic to think that I have a team of eight guys who can represent us anywhere and really be the face of the company.”

Inherent in the program is an emphasis on animal well-being, as well as increased production through engaged, well-informed and highly motivated employees. Participants learn to effectively lead other employees in their day-to-day responsibilities, analyze and execute timely operation decisions and take personal responsibility for their affect on the operation and its people.

“We were pretty good about the way we did things before, but the program eliminated the headaches here and there,” Cossio says. “There is no more worrying about not being organized. Now, we have the right tools and the confidence to get the job done.  The trainers asked a lot of the right questions and did a good job of opening up the group. We really started to see the different personalities going to work for us, and before we knew it, we were ready to put our thoughts and ideas into practice.”

Once the employees saw the way different personalities and work styles mixed, communication began opening up and quickly improved. It became clear to those in the program that their training in managing people is imperative to success.

“PeopleFirst makes you think about what you are doing all the time,” Cossio says. “You are thinking about your people every day, and that is what is really going to make us better managers in the long run. It’s about being something bigger than yourself.”

The customized, six-month program consisted of a series of visits, approximately 45 days apart, accompanied by regular conference calls in between appointments. Since completion of the initial program, Easterday has decided to take additional steps in its employee development efforts and design a plan for 2012.

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