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Intentional decisions improve ranch efficiency

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Riverton – “To develop purpose, we have to step up, define our culture and articulate our values,” Padlock Ranch CEO Trey Patterson proclaimed. 

In his keynote address at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days, sponsored by Fremont County Extension, Patterson stressed the importance of being intentional in decision making to steer the direction of ranch decisions. 

He stressed the value of excellent people, healthy natural resources, financial excellence and systems thinking.

The right people 

“Everything we do starts with excellent people,” Patterson said. “We have to make sure the loss of a single person doesn’t cripple the entire operation.” 

Patterson mentioned, in addition to ability, he hires people based on attitude, character and work ethic. 

“People are driven by personal mastery,” said Patterson. 

He used an example of people who pursue the mastery of crafts, such as leatherwork or music, and explained their own personal mastery is the reason they work hard. The same can be applied to their work on the ranch. 

“Our goal is to put people in an environment where they want to succeed,” according to Patterson. “In this environment, we promote life-long learning and an ability to succeed.”

Patterson noted the old-style “cowboy way” of being tough and not developing people won’t be effective in the long-run when it comes to keeping good employees. 

“Our goal is to create autonomy among our workers,” Patterson noted. “We don’t want robots just following what the person ahead of them is doing exactly.”

“As a manager, it’s very important to put people before logistics,” said Patterson. “Effective leaders get results through good people.” 

Natural resource 


“The worst thing we can do is get in camps of being conservation-driven or profit-driven,” Patterson commented. “But we can be both.We need conservation.”

Patterson noted sustainability involves giving pastures time to rest and different seasons of use across years and adaptive grazing management. 

“Ideally, we don’t want the same plant bitten multiple times as its growing,” Patterson said. “Multiple bites damage the plant factory, and it cannot be established as it should.”

Patterson commented planned and efficient grazing is key in terms of both conservation and profitability. 

“We have to be grazing efficiently and close to capacity,” Patterson commented. “I am not saying to overgraze but to graze smart and efficiently.”

“Production will suffer if we overstock,” he stressed. 

“Range feed quality is affected by grazing systems,” Patterson noted. “Planned grazing keeps better quality.”


He also noted water management is a critical aspect of ranch management as a whole. 

“We must balance efficient range utilization and water management,” said Patterson. “For example, dry cows in the winter require less water and can meet some of their water needs in dry pastures via snow.”

“The benefits of effective natural resource management include increased carrying capacity, lower cost per unit, drought tolerance and improved livestock performance,” he added.

Financial excellence 

“Financial performance is critical for sustainability,” Patterson commented.

Patterson explained profit is essential in any operation, but to be profitable, excellent systems need to be in place. 

“Look at five year-rolling averages for return on assets, return on equity, debt-to-equity ratio and net income,” said Patterson. 

“From a management standpoint, if we don’t understand costs, there’s no way to know what we can and can’t leverage,” Patterson commented.   

He recommended using an accrual based enterprise system using cost-based accounting. He noted this tracks costs by ranch unit, crop and equipment type. 

Systems thinking

“We must be able to understand the cause and effect relationships on the ranch,” Patterson noted.

He used an example of making decisions after a disaster, such as a fire or drought. 

“We have to be flexible and have alternatives to make it through,” Patterson said.

As an example, Padlock Ranch had to adjust after a grass fire swept across their land several years ago.

“When we experienced a fire, we were forced to early wean calves and move them to the feedlot,” Patterson explained. “It wasn’t ideal, but sometimes we have to sacrifice short-term profitability to benefit in the long run.” 

“In the case of drought, we have to remember it is always more expensive to replace the cowherd,” Patterson noted. “But, sometimes liquidating is necessary. We have to base that decision on feed costs, current and expected market conditions and duration of the drought.” 

“We have to focus on what we can actually control,” Patterson said. “We can’t control natural disasters, but we can control how prepared we are and how we handle them.”

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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