How a thriving dairy values staff as decision makers

Staff walk the fields together to measure grass at Sam Carey’s three dairy farming businesses.

A one-person job on most dairy farms, Mr Carey encourages a collaborative approach to measuring and making decisions about grass allocation.

“Grass is one of the most important aspects of what we do, so it is in our interest that everyone who works for us is involved, because the more they understand how the farm works, the better it can [work],” he says.

See also: 7 staff management tips from a dairy farmer 

Farm facts

  • 688ha (1,650 acres) farmed
  • Spring-calving herds
  • Average milk yield 4,000-5,000 litres across three herds
  • Milk supplied to Yew Tree Dairy and Mona Dairy
  • Cows at grass all year round on two of the three farms
  • Mob-grazing of all stock
  • No manufactured fertilisers applied

From a simple initiative like this, to bigger ones that give staff opportunities to grow their own equity, Mr Carey has created a workplace culture that values employees as decision makers and encourages personal growth.

“Helping people to develop and improve is a win-win situation for everyone,” he reckons.

At just 34 years old, he has 10 full-time and part-time employees across three sites – a tenanted former beef and sheep farm at Machynlleth that he converted to dairy and share-farming agreements with farm owners in Conwy and Market Drayton.

These are ventures he has established in the past two years; until then, he had been share-farming for eight years on the Rhiwlas Estate in Bala, Gwynedd.

People as assets

From that first enterprise to the bigger one he has today, Mr Carey’s philosophy is one that regards the people who work for him not as a cost, but as his biggest asset, and one that will help his business to thrive.

People management is a subject he has studied at depth – he was awarded the Richard John Memorial Bursary in 2018 for a study on the theme of creating a great place to work.

That research taught him how people can be a limiting factor in any industry, not just dairy farming.

“If other industries can recruit and retain workers, why can’t dairy?

“Successful businesses like Tesco and McDonald’s have got thousands of good people working for them and they don’t pay their workers any more than dairy farming.”

To inform his own approach to being an employer, he looked to other sectors for inspiration, visiting employee-owned businesses including wire specialist Gripple and Lincolnshire-based construction company Lindum Group.

He has applied some of the principles he saw in action there, including Lindum’s “servant leadership” approach, where the boss is at the bottom of the hierarchical triangle and the workers are at the top. 

He also researched theories on people motivation. “What motivates people is not the same for everyone.

“For instance, in our low-input, low-cost system, some are more interested in the environmental, regenerative side of what we do, [while] for others it is about learning from our low-cost, low-capital approach and copying and developing that.”

However, there is a unifying factor. “We have a community of people who enjoy what they do,’’ Mr Carey adds.

Creating opportunities

In practical terms, what does all this look like in his business? “I start with the goal of creating a great place to work, because I want people to feel satisfaction and enjoyment from what they do,” he says.

“Understanding the purpose, the longer-term goal of the business, is important, too, because if you can facilitate that line of vision, you can take people forward with you.”

He has given managers opportunities to lease cows into the business, to build their own equity and to set up a business within a business.

For example, Mr Carey provided one manager with support to create a heifer-rearing enterprise, and then he bought back the heifers as replacements.

At Rhiwlas, he gave an employee the opportunity to slowly buy into the business. He is also developing opportunities for staff at his new sites.


Mr Carey has a set of basic principles in place across his units that he says creates a sense of cohesion that is good for staff and good for business:

No ‘hoarding’ of jobs

Everyone can do every task on the farm, and no single job is reliant on one person. This encourages better communication, he says.

“We all recognise that we depend on each other, and people can cover for each other – if someone is away from the farm, things just carry on – and that protects us from risk.”

Establish a discussion group within the business

Every six-to-eight weeks, staff from each of the three sites meet as a discussion group.

“It broadens their thinking and creates a community of trust, support and communication, where people understand what they are part of,” he says.

Operate a workplace culture of trust and transparency

This might be as basic as following through on something that has been agreed, such as turning up at a particular time.

“If you are constantly late, you are devaluing other people’s time and they lose their trust in you,” says Mr Carey. “How you conduct yourself is important and following through on what you say you are going to do is part of that.”

Run the business as a team

His approach is not dissimilar from a coach in charge of a football team, with his farm managers as captains and the rest of the staff as players.

“As a coach you wouldn’t tell the players to stay in the box and just pass the ball to the captain to always score the goal,” he says. “Everyone should have that opportunity.”


His style of managing people is one that draws future employees to his business; most of his recruitment is done by word of mouth.

“We think we have shown people that dairy farming is a fantastic way of life – it is not a dead-end job.”

As such, staff are rarely absent through sickness. Age does not dictate who holds the senior positions in his business, and he values attitude over skills.

“We can teach people to do things, but what you can’t teach is attitude. The people who we recruit have the right attitude and a willingness to learn. Those are the people you want in your business.”