Member of Distinction: Western Area — South Lakes Dairy

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Representing DFA's Western Area, the Schakel family, owners of South Lakes Dairy in Pixley, Calif., has been named a 2015 Member of Distinction.

Beginning with 90 cows nearly half a century ago, Fred Schakel has watched his dairy operation grow substantially over the years. Today, milking 5,800 cows in California’s Central Valley,

Fred, his son, Ryan, and son-in-law, Manuel Rodrigues, have relied on technology and skillful management to keep their operation running smoothly.

At the same time, although they’re running a big business, the owners stay grounded in family connections.

“Yes, the hours can be long,” Ryan said. “But the family involvement just makes this job special." 

One of the dairy’s technical tools keeps track of thousands of cows. Each animal is fitted with an electronic identification (EID) tag in her ear, which is scanned by handheld computers in order to build a detailed history. This information is readily accessible in a database.

Given the importance of water in California, the owners at South Lakes Dairy follow environmentally sound practices that also reap financial and practical benefits. All of the freestall barns and the lanes are flushed with recycled manure water that has been processed through a separator system. The solids that are removed by the separator are air-dried and then repurposed as bedding in the barns.

Maintaining a consistent labor force in the milking parlor has been challenging, and the owners take assertive steps that seek to retain their workers — and keep high standards. They distribute milk quality bonuses to employees, and managers are incentivized with a profit-sharing arrangement.