Reaping the rewards

Written by Marjie Knust

After years of hard work on leased dairies, the Silveiras find success on their own operation

Johnny Silveira was not even a year old when his parents moved to the United States from Säo Jorge, Açores, to work on a relative’s dairy in Tipton, Calif. For 18 years, Jose, Maria and Johnny Silveira worked together dreaming that one day, they would own their own dairy.

When Johnny was a senior in high school, they decided the time was right. They found a dairy to lease and began milking 160 cows in Hanford, Calif., in 1991.

“I’d been working with my parents since I was 13 on our relatives’ dairy, and we moved to our own leased facility when I was 18,” Johnny says. “At that time, we didn’t have any other labor; it was just the three of us.”

The Silveiras spent 12 years at the Hanford facility before deciding they wanted to expand. They found another operation to lease in El Nido, Calif., which would house 800 cows. By this time, Johnny had met and married Terianne, who grew up on her family’s dairy in Tulare, Calif.

“Johnny and I met at a Portuguese dinner right before I left for college,” Terianne says. “I went to Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif., to study business administration, but I switched to ag business because I wanted to stay in agriculture. Little did I know I’d end up staying in dairy.”

After the couple got married in 2003, Terianne took on an active role on the family dairy, doing the books and helping to manage the employees. While the family was finding success on their leased dairy, they longed to own their own operation.

Both Johnny and Terianne grew up on dairies and wanted their son, Logan, 7, and their daughter, Lauren, 4, to have the same opportunities that they had.

“It was always our goal to own our own place,” Johnny says. “That was the light at the end of the tunnel. It took a really long time to get there.”

Last November, the Silveiras’ dream came true when they purchased a 225-acre dairy in Chowchilla, Calif., and began milking 1,200 Holsteins.

“It was a long process,” he says. “We ended up leasing the farm ground for a few months while it was in escrow so we could get the crop in the ground, then started moving cows in September and finally moving everything over in November.”

The process of moving posed some difficulties, Johnny says. By deciding to move in phases, they were essentially operating two dairies for a few months.

“The biggest challenge about moving was just keeping both dairies running smoothly without hiring extra labor,” he says.

According to Tony Sousa, the Silveiras’ Dairy Farmers of America field representative, the family handled the move like pros.

“They handled the transition very smoothly,” he says. “They really had it planned and kept me updated on the status, and their milk quality never suffered during the transition.”

The Silveiras had always milked cows, but had never farmed before, so planting corn and wheat was something new.

“We have some good friends who helped us with the farming and the move,” Johnny says.

The family’s current facility offers more in terms of cow comfort and efficiency. Switching from open corrals to freestalls has made it easier to keep the cows clean and comfortable, Johnny says, as well as made a difference in milk quality.

“The cows are definitely doing better in the freestalls,” he says. “It’s easier to keep them clean and dry and things just run smoother. It’s just an overall better facility.”