‘It’s a fine day’ to be a dairy manager
As the dairy manager of Yosemite Jerseys in Hilmar, California, Brett Barlass built a team of 26 people, and for a span of 9 years, did not have a single no-call, no-show employee.
On the Uplevel Dairy Podcast, we talk about his management style, electronic music dance parties at 5 a.m., and the nine things he says employees need from a manager.
But to take a step back from the conversation, I couldn’t help but consider … what did it take to keep Brett as a dairy manager for 15 years with Yosemite?
And then to make the transition when the dairy was acquired by California Dairy Farms in 2022, where he is now tasked with replicating that culture among 6 dairy sites, 19,000 cows and 200 employees?
Let’s face it. There are way easier, less demanding jobs out there than the long hours and daily challenges of managing a dairy. The Wisconsin native came to California in 2006, fresh out of his cap and gown from Cornell. Brett’s two years of high school Spanish hardly prepared him to communicate with the 2,000-cow dairy’s crew. But somehow, Brett found his niche, managing both cows and people.
So what really was the key to his success? And what continues to motivate him to persevere through challenge and change?
After spending some time talking to Brett, I’d say it comes down to this: An attitude of positivity, humility and gratitude.
Positive attitudes are contagious. Perhaps that part of the key to the culture Brett was able to create at Yosemite Jerseys that led to long-tenured employees, averaging 10 to 11 years.
“I try not to have bad days,” Brett says.
What if we all met each day with that same resolve? How would that impact the people around us - at work and at home?
Even on the worst day, Brett finds something to feel good about.
“I got a roof over my head and food in my stomach and that's the truth,” Brett shares. “I think of all the places in the world right now where people are not having such positive encounters on a daily basis. I'm here, I'm six feet above ground, and I'm happy just to enjoy life. So I'm going to make the best of every day.”
Brett’s happy place isn’t being in the office. His greatest enjoyment is walking outside and being with the team members as they're doing their jobs. He wants people to enjoy coming to work and to work safely. That’s why he seeks their input and is not afraid to receive it.
At each annual review, he asks these questions:
If this was your dairy, what would you do differently?
What safety concerns do you have?
“I may think I know what's best, but I want to hear from the team that's milking cows before I make any changes,” he adds.
Perhaps an attitude of gratitude is in his blood. Brett shared that he recently got to see the diaries of his great-great-grandfather, which chronicled his journey from Scotland to the United States in the 1840s.
“It’s a fine day,” Brett says. “That’s how he would either start or end his journals each day.”
“If my great-great-grandfather can have a fine day in 1842 on the back of a donkey, I can do it,” Brett jokes.
In all seriousness, it’s this attitude of gratitude, humility and positivity that makes Brett a motivated manager, a great leader and a person others want to work for and want to follow.
No different from his ancestor who traveled across an ocean and half-way across the country to dairy farm, Brett too believes it’s always a fine day to be doing what he loves.
Insights from Peggy Coffeen Owner and Podcast Host of UpLevel Dairy.