Fred Machado, 77, sits at the dining table of his Easton, Calif., home where he frequently gathered with family members to ponder the decision to sell his 900 cows as part of an industry-funded program to cut milk production.
On that table is a decorative, wooden likeness of a cow that holds a floral display.
In time, such decorations – wooden cows over his fireplace mantle, cow bookends in his office, another cow holder for flowers outside – will be the only cows in Machado’s life for the first time in nearly 70 years.
Machado still has 500 heifers, but he’ll sell them, too. His milking days, which started in the Azores when he was 8 years old, are over. His milking parlor is empty and still now, and his corrals are mostly empty.
Machado and family members concede the decision to close their dairy operation and sell the animals was a wrenching one. But they saw it as necessary because they were losing $70,000 a month by keeping it in operation.
“It was a family decision,” Machado says. “It was not what we wanted to do, but it was the best thing for us to do. It feels kind of empty, but we’ll get by.
“We didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. There were two choices – mortgage our land to stay in a losing business or get out and save the farm.”
Machado says he didn’t watch as his cows were taken to slaughter.
He and his family continue to farm 240 acres of grapes – half for raisins, half for concentrate; along with 350 acres of almonds. When the dairy industry mends, he hopes to lease out his corrals and milking facilities.
At no time, he says, did he contemplate suicide as some have done, given the challenge of low milk prices, a diminished export market, a glut of milk and loss of a dairy.
“Nothing is worth taking your life,” he says. A strong family support system helped. Gathered around that table were others involved in the Machado farming operation, including a daughter, Kathi Woodward; a son, Arthur Machado; and, of course, Fred Machado’s wife, Maxine.
His strong faith – he’s Catholic – also helped, along with a fierce sense of patriotism. A Korean War veteran of Navy service on a troop ship, he has a 10-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty, two flagpoles and a GOP elephant-shaped topiary in his front yard.
Machado was a 16-year-old immigrant from the Azores when he started as a farmworker doing jobs that included milking cows for $250 a month. He took to the dairy industry quickly, starting to lease land for farming in 1955 with money he saved while in the Navy. He farmed that first 25 acres with used equipment, then began to acquire his own land.
He established the dairy with 50 cows in 1970 and once milked up to 1,500.
Machado believes greed is at the root of the dairy industry’s problems, with producers expanding herds dramatically year-to-year.
“The bigger they are, the more they suffer,” he says.
Because Machado established his dairy himself, the dynamics are not the same as those for some third and fourth generation dairy operators who suffered the pain of a lost legacy that can go back a century.
But still there’s sadness. “We lost a lot of genetics we were building for 40 years,” Machado says.
His daughter says the hope was to pass the dairy on to Machado’s grandchildren. Now that the cows are almost gone, Machado stays engaged with other farming activities.
And he has more time for volunteer work now, spending 10 hours a week with the Veteran’s Memorial Museum’s Legion of Valor in Fresno.
And there’s more time to spend with his six grandchildren.
Sitting not far from his cow planter out front is this sign: Grandpa and Grandma’s place, open daily; lullabies and wagon rides; cookies ‘n’ hugs; stories of long ago; kids spoiled here.