By Lindsay Reyes
BOVINA, Texas – Passion for the dairy business in the Vazquez family started at early age. Currently, the manager of SD Farms, Mondo Vazquez originally from Stephenville, Texas, grew up on Jim and Jack Beyer’s dairy where his dad milked cows for many years.
“As I went through high school, being on the dairy I began to like being around the cows more and more,” Vazquez said. “I decided to pursue the A.I. side of the dairy industry. I began to see that Erath County was behind the times, so I head to California to learn more.”
Mondo Vazquez, with his wife Chela and son Jeremy, who was two years old at the time, made the move to California completely by their own choice. Mondo started working on the A.J. and John Bos’s dairy where he begin learning more about dairying.
“They taught me a lot more than I had learned previously at the dairy I grew up on. There I learned more about cows, A.I. and entering data onto the computer to keep accurate records,” he said. He worked for them as a herdsman for five years.
From the Bos dairy the Vazquez family relocated to Bakersfield, Calif. where he was offered a job by Amos DeGroot and Eric Goedhart. “I was offered a management position, which was a better situation for both Chela and myself. She was secretary and I was the dairy manager,” said Mondo. “We actually worked for Amos and Eric for about five or six years before we decided to move on and work for other dairy operations in Central California.”
From Bakersfield Mondo and his family relocated to Moapa, Nev., located between Las Vegas and Mesquite, to manage Moapa Valley Dairy, another facility owned by Amos DeGroot.
It wasn’t too long until DeGroot and Goedhart found themselves needing to hire Mondo and Chela back at their dairy. “A management opportunity was offered at their Arizona TCK Dairy with 1,200 heifers, and a double-12 parlor. We were there for about a year and a half,” said Vazquez.
“Amos had a dairy in San Jacinto (California) where he needed a new manager, so we moved again,” said Chela. The Vazquez family was in San Jacinto for about another two years. The land the dairy was on was in escrow during their stay. They had no idea how long it would be before the dairy would have to be moved due to development. “When the land deal closed, we only had six months to find a place to relocate the dairy operation and their cows,” said Chela.
“They started looking in different areas of the country, including places like Kansas. But when Amos and Eric asked us where we would really like to go, the discussion always seemed to lean toward Texas,” Chela explained.
The pluses for returning to their roots in Texas came about because of the wide open spaces, less humidity and the availability of land to grow crops, as well as the proximity to the other dairies that DeGroot owns.
On March 15, 2005, SD Farms in Bovina, Texas opened its doors and they started milking cows. Mondo was on the farm while Chela was in California organizing the shipments of cows to Texas – a process that took about a month.
“I asked Chela to start sending me the tail end cows first and keep milking the high producers. We ended up moving 1,200 head and only lost one cow during the entire relocation to Texas. When I got to Texas it was snowing and when the cows arrived and got off the truck they where not sure what to think of the situation,” declared Mondo.
The transition from California was smooth and soon they began their 3X milking cycle, which they were able to maintain for about a year and a half.
“As our herd grew, the less time we had for milking 3X,” said Mondo. Cow numbers increased to 1,500, and eventually ballooned to 2,900 head, which they are now milking 2X.
From the beginning until now, Mondo has been the manager at SD Farms along with his wife Chela as the office manager. “Sometimes there were tough days. You work together at the dairy all day, then go home to each other,” stated Mondo. “It’s requires an adjustment.”
All employees at the dairy are from Texas. No one made the move from California. Thus, Mondo and Chela have spent a lot of time training employees, not to mention, getting the cows accustomed to the new parallel parlor, different from their previous herringbone setup.
“Every cow had to be physically loaded one-by-one, which was a little challenging,” said Vazquez. “I have to give a lot of credit to the employees we have now and the teamwork it takes to run the dairy. We couldn’t be where we are today without them.
“ A lot of people say that the Panhandle is great but, a lot of people don’t realize that it can snow, sleet, rain, and be sunny, all in the same day. You tell people that and they think you have to be nuts to live here. The swings here for herd health is incredible. It’s not like dairying in California. It’s definitely not easy to dairy here,” declared Mondo.
But, growing up in Stephenville gave Mondo good preparation for the challenges he is facing from weather. It’s that experience Mondo is putting to good use in Bovina. Along with the knowledge that he had gained previously, he has learned many new things along the way.
“I think we are fortunate to have bosses who will listen to us. When we told them we needed a maternity barn, they agreed and stood behind us, which really says a lot,” stated Chela.
Though Chela was not originally from a dairy background, it didn’t take her to long to become accustomed to the dairy lifestyle. “It’s a very family orientated business. The whole family gets involved. Our oldest son, Jeremy, breeds cows on the farm now and our youngest boy gets dropped off at the dairy by the bus after school and goes out and plays with the cows and calves,” said Chela.
Without good employees and great neighbors, it would be hard to dairy in this part of the country, Chela concluded. But Mondo, Chela and their children are thankful for the local support network that is there for people in the dairy industry.