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3 Open Minutes with Marion Barlass

Published on 09 April 2009

Marion Barlass and her husband, Bill, operate Barlass Jerseys near Janesville, Wisconsin, with two of their three children. They milk 420 registered Jerseys and grow alfalfa, corn, soybeans, wheat and canning crops on 1,000 acres. The Barlass herd is among the top-producing Jersey herds in the U.S. with a rolling herd average of 18,000 pounds, more than 900 pounds of fat and 770 pounds of protein. Last fall, World Dairy Expo honored Barlass as the 2008 Dairy Woman of the Year.

What is your role on your dairy, and how has it changed over time?

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BARLASS: I used to milk cows twice a day. Since we’ve expanded, I do more people management and help with feeding calves and herd health. I also do herd checks at least twice a day. It used to be that everybody watched the cows; now it’s more focused.

What early experiences enabled you to become involved in the industry aside from being a producer?

BARLASS: I’ve been active in things since I was a kid. I always felt I needed to do things other than stay in the barn. Usually an opportunity would come along and somebody would ask me to take part. Somebody has to step up and fill positions. It’s always a great opportunity to work with people that have great ideas.

Was farming something you’ve always wanted to do and why?

BARLASS: Yeah, I guess. I didn’t major in dairy science, but I loved growing up on a farm and doing farm things. I married someone who was a farmer and like the independence a farmer has.

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You were the first woman to serve as president of the Wisconsin Jersey Breeders Association. What did you bring to that position?

BARLASS: I brought a different perspective. Men can see the bigger picture and don’t always see the details. That was a good year for building equity memberships and equity funding in the state.

What other leadership roles have you held?

BARLASS: I’m now on the board for National All-Jersey, Inc. and the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW). I’m also on the board for Alto Dairy as it works to close itself out. I was the token female on the committee to direct research and funding for rBST and on the Producer Security Fund committee for DATCP (Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection). Locally, I was on the executive committee for Farm Progress Days, a member of the Milton FFA Alumni and an at-large director for the Association of Women in Agriculture. I will be helping with the Alice in Dairyland selection event when it comes to Rock County.

Why is it important to you to be involved in those organizations?

BARLASS: Every outside thing I do has helped me and helped the farm. Whatever I learn, I bring it home and use it. It’s given me a broader perspective and helped me to appreciate what I’ve got. I also like to do something to hopefully help other people.

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How have you balanced time for your family, farm and industry involvement?

BARLASS: Everybody here on the farm is involved in [many things]. It helps to have more than one person from the family involved in the farm and we all cover for each other to make time to do those things.

You’ve been awarded one of the greatest honors a dairywoman can achieve. What was that like?

BARLASS: It was a huge shock. It was an incredible honor. There is no greater honor than being recognized by your peers. It was probably my most memorable Expo. My dad and siblings came and my sisters-in-law came from both coasts.

Are there any positions or experiences you’d like to have in the future?

BARLASS: I can’t say I have big aims to do a particular job. There are lots of opportunities and it’s important to encourage young people to get involved. They have so much to offer and usually have more new ideas. PD

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