Another day, another dollar

by Savanna Simmons
for Tri-State Livestock News
Building loyalty with a day worker by hiring him year round or just on a fairly regular basis can ensure that he makes himself available on the busiest days of the year when a producer may need him the most. Photo by Savanna Simmons

Calving, branding, weaning, shipping. All are instances where additional hired help may be necessary, though some producers hire day workers consistently throughout the year as well.

Mike Dyer, of Dyer Ranch in Crawford, Nebraska, keeps one full-time employee throughout the year, and hires a part-time day worker for two to three days per week year round.

Day workers have benefits over keeping a full-time hired man, cost effectiveness being the main reason. While a day worker may miss the day-to-day and routine of the ranch, but a day worker who fits well can easily catch up.

“An advantage to a hired man is someone is there daily; you know how they’re going to handle things,” Dyer said. “They know how the operation is run and the routine of what you do every day.”

“Sometimes you just grit your teeth pretty hard, but for the most part, the people that are hiring figure out how to adapt so it isn’t all on your shoulders. We usually meet in the middle. Travis Anderson

Dyer typically employs neighbors and local men as day workers, though occasionally he reaches out to Chadron State College Students, twenty-four miles away. Most of the local day workers that Dyer hires are folks that grew up in his small town with his son and daughter. This gives Dyer the advantage of knowing who they are and likely how they will work out.

“Travis, for instance, grew up here with our kids,” Dyer said. “I’ve known him since he was a little kid. I knew what kind of help he was going to be.”

Travis Anderson, who Dyer mentioned, currently lives near Lakeside, Nebraska, working on his brother-in-law’s ranch. Prior to the recent move there, Anderson day worked for Dyer and other ranchers around Crawford to help supplement income when his ranch couldn’t fully support his family.

“It was a good way to subsidize the operation when my own operation wasn’t big enough to sustain us,” Anderson said.

He also viewed time at other ranches as a learning opportunity, especially when he could glean knowledge from the other generations and producers who have been at it for some time.

“You get exposed to a lot of different ways of doing things, some good, some bad. Education, you could call it,” Anderson said. “Another benefit is that if you had something to do for yourself, you could always say no, which is different to do with full time.”

Where Dyer hired on day help a few times a week, he was afforded a little more loyalty than other employers who just call during busy times of the year for day workers. While Dyer needs an additional hand than just his hired man, it’s also an intentional effort to stay in good graces.

“If we use someone regularly, we just got it set up to where we agreed we’re going to use them two days a week and set up the days,” Dyer said. “Most of these guys are pretty loyal, pretty committed and won’t take something else usually, but notifying them in advance helps.”

If Dyer is hiring another man for whatever reason, he tries to call a month in advance.

On the other side of the hiring process, Anderson appreciates loyalty built between rancher and day worker.

“I was fortunate, at the tail end, I had one guy that usually kept me busy most of the time, so I was more inclined to keep him a priority in those busier times,” he said.

Dyer strives to stay competitive and fair with his wages, often by consulting area ranchers in the same position and paying by the hour. Half-day or full-day pay is common while hiring day workers.

Mike’s wife Bev provides a hot meal if they’re working near the house around the lunch hour, or they pack a lunch if the day worker is sent off fencing, something that is a great need on the Dyer Ranch this spring with most of the fences torn out by snow banks or running water.

“Right now, we could use a day worker pert near every day,” Mike said. “This year is going to be worse, because we’re going to have to fix every fence.”

If Mike bumps into the situation where day help isn’t meshing well, he simply doesn’t ask them back. He isn’t too concerned about hurting feelings, however, he tries to prevent the situation by either knowing the hire beforehand or getting good references.

Anderson has experiences not meshing well a time or two, but it isn’t a common occurrence.

“Sometimes you just grit your teeth pretty hard, but for the most part, the people that are hiring figure out how to adapt so it isn’t all on your shoulders,” he said. “We usually meet in the middle.”

Anderson also hasn’t had to ask for higher wages very often in his time day working. “Most people are usually pretty good at figuring out they are falling behind the times and will increase it,” he said. “At some points, I have had to ask for more.”