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Its a job 365 days a year
Third-generation dairy farmer Melvin Luiz of Manteca watches indulgently as his four-year-old grandson Jacob runs to greet him during a brief break from feeding the cows earlier this week. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Melvin Luiz will tell you, dairy farmers never take a break from their chores.

“Dairy men work seven days a week, 365 days a year!” he said with a chuckle, pausing momentarily from his daily task of feeding the cows at the family-owned and family-operated dairy on Woodward and Oleander avenues in south Manteca earlier this week.

Some farmers, such as those who deal with row crops, may be able to take a little bit of time off in the wintertime from their back-breaking work in the fields while using the slower days of the cold season to get busy with the annual clean-up and repairs of their farm equipment.

“Not dairy farmers,” said the third-generation dairyman as he alternately loaded up bales of hay and almond shells in his heavy equipment front loader to feed the hungry cows.

It took him several trips, from the dairy to the field across the road where the mounds of almond shells and bales of hay are being kept, to finish the job that required a few hours to complete. The dairy’s nearly 300 cows – which include about 150 milking cows – all have to be fed morning and afternoon in between milking.

While he has Jaime Cornejo and wife Velma, plus one farm helper, to do the milking chores, Luiz himself does all the feeding of the cows. He does that every day throughout the year, driving each time to Manteca from Modesto where he moved some years back after his divorce to be near his twin children who now have kids of their own. Luiz, who has since remarried to wife Sandy, announced he is now the proud grandfather of five exuberant young boys from his twin daughters Kristi and Melissa.

Growing up and through college, the girls both worked alongside their father at the dairy every day, mostly feeding the cows. That’s how they earned their money to buy their first cars.

“The girls don’t do that anymore,” said Luiz without regret.

Melissa now works at Memorial Hospital in Modesto while Kristi works at a credit union. Family and work have curtailed their job stints at the dairy, but the grandsons are showing a strong interest in working at the dairy just as their mothers did, said a delighted Luiz. This week, for example, 4-year-old grandson Jacob who is the older of Melissa’s two sons – younger brother is Trenton who is five months – tagged along with his grandfather to the dairy. In between playing with the young son of the family caretaker, Jacob watched closely as his grandfather drove the big truck back and forth during the feeding of the cows. A few times, while his grandfather took a breather, he nimbly clambered up the big vehicle to sit on his grandfather’s lap and chat with him. Other times, he pretended to give directions on the ground to his grandpa as he brought in the feed to the cows.

The dairy was started by Luiz’s late grandfather, Manuel Costa, more than half a century ago. After his grandfather passed away, Luiz’s father Melvin Sr. took over the running of the dairy. When his father passed away, the task was then passed on to Luiz. He said being a dairy farmer is a round-the-clock job year-round because the cows don’t stop giving milk regardless of the season or the weather. And the cows have to be milked twice a day, with each milking taking several hours to complete.

It’s a demanding job which is why “you gotta have your heart in it,” Luiz said.

— Rose Albano Risso

city editor