Build a Dedicated Team

Dr. Scott MacGregor takes a hands-on approach toward team-building in feedlots. ( Brianna Chance )

The Oxford dictionary defines Negotiation as: “obtain or bring about by discussion, find a way over or through”.

Underline “discussion!”

Remember that two out of three of our feedlot employees are not working to their potential. This is either due to a bad boss, environment or in fairness, a poor employee to start with.

Our role, as a veterinarian in feed yards today is that of a coach, auditor, and a conduit with the crew.  

Personally, I feel that the preponderance of poor outputs is usually the responsibility of the leaders/managers. That includes us as feedlot veterinarians. We are and should be apart of the decision making team. Therefore we have this responsibility to insure our health protocols are being managed by crew members that are sincere and responsible in their efforts to achieve maximum execution.

Think about the best boss you ever had and then think about the worst. What are the differences? For me personally, a good boss listens and nurture’s relationships.

If you want to influence, lead with listen! My partner Breck, has often said, “Never give up the chance to shut up.”

Carnegie stated: “Bait the hook to suit the fish.”

Carnegie also taught us the first thing we need to understand when trying to influence someone, is that their thought processes may be juxtaposed to ours. These differences need to be both heard and understood in order to proceed.

Think “LEAN”

  • Listen to the other person’s ideas and perspectives.
  • Embrace their thinking where it meets your directions of thought.
  • Align yourself to find common ground.
  • Needs of the other person should be involved in going forward.
  • However, “be tough to your goal and kind to your people”.

It is felt, that in most cases crews in feed yards will try and meet the goals and expectations of management. From experience there are times where the expectations are too low, or are so obscure that defeat is in the picture.

A technique I learned years ago from a workshop is “GROW”

When challenged with a problem that needs solutions, I would go to the crew involved and conduct the following exercise.


  • Goal. Develop a better, more timely, more improved goal.
  • Realistic. Is this goal obtainable and realistic?
  • Objectives. List all of the possible ways to obtain this goal. Anything counts
  • Way Forward. Prioritize the top five objectives and place an appropriate time frame on them to insure that they get done.

Problem relationships are 10% the people and 50% the situation. Try to respond proactively from within your leadership position and don’t react from outside pressures.

Easy to say, hard to do. Right?

Here is where listening can be an effective “decompressor”. It allows time so that you are not reactive, plus it allows you time to gather information about the situation.

It obviously helps in times where negotiations are required to understand the other person’s personality. There are very complicated systems designed to do this. Personally I think that they are too complicated. I would break people on your crews into four personality groups.

  • Experienced, motivated and directed.
  • Experienced and burned out.
  • Not experienced and highly supportive and motivated.
  • Not experienced and not motivated.

To attempt to micro-manage the first two personality types is the kiss of death!

The fourth type of crew member was either a bad hire in the first place or needs a short acclimation period, where diagnosis is made as to find the key to unlock a productive employee or if this doesn't work, they should be released.

Coaching and supporting the third type of crewmember can be very rewarding to both parties.

Listening carefully to the second type of employee to see what makes them happy in their work. It may surprise you. Work that direction.

The first type of personality is very often the one that gets promoted into a higher level management. This usually fails as often as it is a positive move. Why? They were never taught to manage people. Upper management has to accept the responsibility of giving them the tools to thrive in their new position. Remember they have to manage the four types to crewmembers also.

I have had some very smart people tell me that most people are motivated already. It is our role as leader/managers to find the key that opens up their lock and brings to light, this positive energy towards better execution and performance and I might add happiness going forward.

The veterinarian plays a unique role in guiding the interpersonal dynamics in a feed yard in the right directions. We are in different livestock operations every day and see what works and what doesn't. If you are working within a company that has 40% turn over, it is sick and needs help in finding the direction necessary to provide its employees a safe, free and open place within which to do good work.

Upcoming articles from Dr. MacGregor will address time management, communication skills, how to hire and fire people and how and when to grow your business and work force.

Learn more at

Read the first article in this series, titled “Create a Winning Culture in your Feedyard Crew.”

For a related educational opportunity, read “AABP Offers New Conference for Recent Veterinary Graduates.”


Contented Crew, Contented Animals

By John Maday

When feedlot and dairy workers enjoy their jobs, feel empowered to make decisions and understand the reasons behind their tasks, they are most likely to provide good animal husbandry, resulting in optimum animal performance.

That message came through in a presentation from Elanco’s Michelle Calvo-Lorenzo, PhD, during the recent American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference. Veterinarians, she adds, are well-positioned to work with managers and crews to foster positive attitudes and thus improve welfare, making her presentation an ideal fit for the conference theme of “Become Indispensable.”

As animal welfare becomes a growing concern among consumers, Calvo-Lorenzo stressed the importance of the human element, and worker attitudes in particular, alongside more visible factors such as facilities and protocols. The industry, she adds, has largely adopted the “three pillars” approach toward sustainability, built on environmental, financial and social acceptability, including welfare of livestock and the well-being of workers.

While research data on the relationship between worker attitudes and animal welfare are sparse, some studies have indicated that encouraging positive worker attitudes and behavior can improve cattle performance metrics such as milk yield. In a recent Texas A&M University study in Texas feedlots, researchers found that employees generally have empathy toward cattle, positive relationships with coworkers and high job satisfaction. They found though, that worker attitudes toward specific tasks such as euthanasia differed between employee groups such as doctoring crews, pen riders or feed-truck drivers.

The researchers found other cases where attitudes could affect behavior. Overall, for example, workers have more negative perceptions of dairy-breed cattle in the feedlot. This suggests an opportunity for managers or veterinarians to provide education and training specifically for confidently handling dairy-breed cattle.

For cattle crews, noise, weather, heavy workloads, long hours and uncooperative cattle create potential safety hazards and, along with social factors such as language barriers and poor leadership, contribute to negative attitudes. Some of those challenges simply come with the job, but employers can minimize problems by involving workers in planning, problem-solving, self -assessment and competency-based training.

Calvo-Lorenzo acknowledges that managers face challenges in hiring reliable workers with livestock skills in a competitive market. This makes retention of skilled workers more critical than ever, and increases the value of investments in training, worker comfort, benefits, incentives and opportunities for advancement.

Employers also need to understand cultural differences and social challenges in honing their employee-relations skills. Immigrant workers, for example, often support families in their home countries. For some, life becomes centered on work and coworkers. If they feel out-of-place, unappreciated and unsure of their responsibilities, stress can lead to behavior that reduces animal welfare. “Positive attitudes correlate with positive behavior, Calvo-Lorenzo says.

For more on “becoming indispensable” from the AABP conference, see these articles on

Focus on What Really Matters

Flying Solo

Keep Clients Asking for More

Systems Thinking in Bovine Practice

The Indispensable Power of Relationships

Contented Crew, Contented Animals

Bovine Practice: Well Positioned for the Future