Having livestock makes it hard to find time to get away because of the constant commitment to the operation. When describing the endless devotion of cattlemen, well-known veterinarian Dr. Dee Griffin of the Meat Animal Research Center, Clay Center, Nebraska, often says, “The cows still have to be fed on Christmas morning; there are no true days off for cattlemen.”

Gordon lynn
Consultant and Ag Writer / LEADER Consulting, LLC

Yet we all need and deserve a break to refuel our batteries. If you oversee employees in your livestock business, remember, those employees have a different level of investment to the business than you.

Employees are focused on their role, but their role is different – they are an employee; you are the owner of the farm/ranch or feedlot. As a result, their view of how things are managed, structured and how many hours they are willing to devote is different than yours.

In addition to working hard, employees want to have time to spend with their family or enjoy a hobby. As the leader, you also want to be able to spend special time with your family or friends. How do you manage this human resource issue? Here are some tips to consider.

Seven tips for structuring employee vacation time

1. Job description outlines vacation structure. During the hiring process, you should discuss employee vacation policy and procedures with the new employees.


It’s important to outline how far ahead and in what format time off should be requested (especially for larger operations – you can’t have your whole feeding crew at the feedlot gone the same week), identify peak work periods in your business (calving, weaning, days of the week for cattle processing or shipping) so employees understand they are less likely to get time off during these peak periods.

By having this discussion, you won’t run into issues like this: “Hank came to me today and said he is taking the weekend off, which was a total surprise to me.” As a leader, you are responsible for leading your staff.

2. Mistakes happen when employees are fatigued. If your employee is stressed, tired and frustrated because they are working so many hours, do you think they will stay your employee very long?

People choose agriculture as their career because they enjoy the lifestyle, but a tired, stressed-out employee has a higher likelihood of making a mistake, one which could result in injury.

For example, long hours put in during calving season happen everywhere, but when an employee is fatigued, that’s when they lose their reaction time and don’t think about extra caution they should take around that cow with her newborn calf.

3. You are the example. As owner, general manager or supervisor (whichever role you fulfill in the business), you can set your schedule and take time off when it works for you.

That’s a benefit which comes with your role. However, don’t forget about how this reflects on your employees. Keep the lines of communication open, as you may often be traveling for business, or it may be vacation.

Be sure your employees know they will be rewarded with time off as well (re: job description discussion). Showing compassion will result in more dedication.

4. Have a plan. By hiring the right people, properly managing their time and delegating responsibilities, you can avoid an employee carrying a heavy workload or working extra hours consistently.

Balancing roles will keep your employees motivated. Operating with a minimal staff when someone is on vacation may seem like the economical thing to do. But what will the outcome be for your operation?

Being short-handed may mean not finding sick cattle, not seeing a cow in heat or not realizing the water tanks are empty, just to name a few items.

5. Know who will cover for the vacationed employee. This may require some cross-training and time with employees working alongside each other to learn new roles.

A checklist of the job (if not already in the job description) should be created. A day-to-day “to do” list to leave with the employee back-filling the role is critical. This checklist is also very important in the case of a sudden emergency leave situation.

6. Be clear with employees about emergencies. Things happen. You may have promised an employee the weekend off and now the Weather Channel is predicting a record blizzard.

Depending on your staffing structure, you may have to go to the employee and indicate they have to cancel or change their plans. Those in the livestock industry and agriculture are resilient and flexible, but you still have to handle this situation with respect to the employee.

7. Truly give employees a break. If you have granted your employee vacation time, break the cord and truly let them have time away. Unless it is an emergency, you should not be texting, calling or emailing them with questions.

Allow them to justly spend time on their vacation away from their employee responsibilities.  end mark

B. Lynn Gordon
  • B. Lynn Gordon

  • Ag Leadership Specialist Assistant Professor
  • SDSU Extension and Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership
  • Email B. Lynn Gordon