The day started at 5 a.m. for the Curnejo family. Jaime and wife Velma, and their older children, were up before the break of dawn – winter, spring, summer and fall. No fail. They had nearly 200 cows to milk in the barn.
That’s not where the work began. Before their udders were attached to the milking equipment, the cows had to be herded from the fields to the back of the barn where, one by one in dutiful formation, they were let inside. Jaime or one of the boys made sure each cow was clean by spraying them with water before they were lined up for milking to prevent milk contamination. That done, the cows – now moving more comfortably – were let out another door at the other side of the barn.
The entire milking process took more than three hours, sometimes four, in time for the children to go to school.
That same scenario was repeated in the evening starting at 5 o’clock. By the time that was done, it was time to go to bed.
The milking cycle would start anew when the roosters crowed at 5 a.m.
And so it went, day in and day out for more than 25 years for the Curnejo family who faitfully worked for the Luiz Dairy at Oleander and Woodward avenue south of the 120 Bypass in Manteca.
The Luiz Dairy was family owned. It started back during the Great Depression by the parents of Melvyn Luiz who passed away late last year. He was an only child, which meant that after his father died, it was his responsibility to tackle all the work while taking care of his mother and his young family at the same time. Fortunately, Luiz could afford to hire a resident milker who lived at the dairy with his family.
Not all small dairies were as fortunate as Luiz. Many family-owned dairies are small – less than 100 cows. A good number of these have been handed down from two, three, even four generations.
But while Luiz was able to hire a resident milker, he continued to be a hands-on dairy owner, even after he moved to Modesto after the divorce. He and his young daughters continued to commute to Manteca every day to be at the dairy to feed the cows early in the morning.
There was a myriad other chores that needed to be done at the dairy. Milking was just one of them, and a small part of it.
Luiz, with the help of the Curnejos, had to constantly monitor the herd. They had to be constantly on the lookout for any signs of sickness to ensure a steady production of milk. Then there are the mechanical problems that needed to be given attention as well. All of these was to make sure they saved money on cost expenses.
Feeding the cows alone was also a constant, round-the-clock chore. Proper nutrition of the herd is important to every dairyman to ensure maximum milk production as well to make sure the cows are healthy. For many farmers, monitoring each cow’s general health was usually done during milking. Early detection of illness is done so that treatment is applied promptly and, just as important, to prevent the spread of any disease or illness. Making sure the hooves are properly trimmed was another chore thrown into any given day, as well as dehorning the young calves, said Velma Curnejo.
Life at the dairy is not your regular 9-5 job. The chores are not crammed into that time frame. Equipment needs to be maintained at all times. And in case of equipment failure, repairs have to be done to keep the dairy operation as smooth as possible.
Time to rest? The unpredictables don’t allow that to happen. The cows don’t have a scheduled time for moments in distress.