By Lindsay Reyes
SPRING LAKE, Texas – You would never know by talking with Uriel Ramirez, manager of VB Ranch and White River Ranch Dairies, that there was a point in his life when he didn’t know how to speak English.
Ramirez began working for Neil Visser of Bakersfield, Calif. when he was 19 years old.
“ I started as a cow pusher and didn’t speak a word of English,” Ramirez said. He pushed cows for about 8 months and when my first child, Stephanie was born, Visser moved him to a milkers job.
After milking cows for three years, Uriel started feeding the cows. “I was very scared about feeding cows and I didn’t know if I was going to make it,” he explained.
“I was able to help Uriel with feeding cows, he was mostly afraid of the math, so I created a spreadsheet to help him out,” said his wife Griecelda. “We went through different scenarios of this is what you would put on if you dumped this amount on the wagon.” This helped Uriel through feeding for three years until he was asked by Visser to breed cows.
At this point, Uriel began to learn English from spending time with his boss. While breeding cows, Neil and Uriel would have small conversations where Uriel could answer either “yes” or “no” because that was basically all the English he knew.
“It was hard for me to breed cows because I was having a hard time communicating with Neil. This is when Neil kind of ‘spanked’ me to motivate me to speak more English,” laughs Ramirez.
With a lot encouragement from Neil and Griecelda, Uriel started speaking some English. “He was giving up and Neil kept telling him ‘you can do it,’” said Griecelda. “Uriel would ask me, ‘Neil said this, what does that mean?’”
After breeding, Neil moved Uriel to the hospital barn and made him a herdsman. At this point, Uriel knew a lot more English.
“I forced myself to learn more because I had to call and order parts, and call people around the dairy for certain things,” said Ramirez, who was also learning about fresh cows, pulling and cleaning cows.
“I will never forget the first time I had to stick my arm in a cow and Neil warned me about a few things. He told me not to pull my arm out, but I did it anyway and the cow slimed,” recalled Uriel.
It wasn’t long before an opportunity came up for a management position on the dairy while they were still in California. “K&M Dairy was built by Keith Visser and they needed a manager on his place,” explained Ramirez. He took the position and continued learning more about managing a dairy and people. “Neil taught me never to scream at an employee and never disrespect an employee,” he said.
In 2004, they asked Ramirez if they were to build a dairy in Texas would he move out there to manage it? That decision hinged on whether Uriel was willing to relocate. If he was not willing to move, they would remain on their California dairy.
It was during that time, the nearby city was starting to surround the dairy. McDonalds was their neighbor across the street.
Also, in 2004 Neil was in the process of building White River Ranch near Hart, Texas. He was planning to move all his cows from his two Roswell, NM dairies.
Uriel did decide to move with the dairy to Spring Lake, Texas where VB Ranch was built and owned by Jess Visser.
In September 2006 Uriel and his family moved to Texas and in October of that year they began milking cows at VB Ranch Dairy. White River Ranch had already been up and going for about three years. Ramirez was a herdsman and at both dairies while managing VB Ranch.
When Neil and Jess Visser saw how well VB Ranch was doing compared to White River Ranch, they asked Ramirez to also manage White River.
“I was a herdsman and manager at both places for awhile and I had a breaking point and just could not do it all and needed to loosen the work load,” declared Ramirez. “We promoted two employees – who had been training under my supervision – to replace me as herdsman at each dairy so I could just manage both.”
Uriel keeps busy managing VB Ranch that milks 2,900 cows and White River Ranch that milks 4,950.
It’s obvious Ramirez loves what he does and that Neil is very proud of the manager that Uriel has become.