Years ago, the dairy business was relatively smaller and simpler to operate as owners ran their dairies with a minimal crew or less. They were especially familiar as to the needs of their herds on a cow-to-cow basis, taking care of all other responsibilities as they saw fit. The dairyman of yesteryear prided himself on running his business where he could basically see to his cows by himself. But, it's not that simple today, whether you own a small or a large dairy.
Keeping within their realm
Judy and Harvey Mayfield may realize this better than most and ironically, sometimes feel the more convenient the operation, the more complicated it becomes.
Throughout the years, they have witnessed the progression from small dairies to large yet the Mayfields have fought hard to stay in their own realm of operation. Instead of growing bigger, they are satisfied to stay at the size they are, milking 400 cows, two-times a day, and raising their own replacement heifers at their Lingleville location.
"Even though our milk average is not nearly as high as some dairies around here, we're okay with our 60 pound average," Harvey said.
Simple is how Judy and Harvey like it. They believe in keeping things as uncomplex as possible in today's complicated world, even though they have given into some modern conveniences to improve their operation.
"Mom & Pop" operation
With the many changes that have taken place around them, the Mayfield Dairy is quite likely one of the oldest and fewest operating "Mom and Pop" dairies left in the Erath County area.
"We've been in the dairy business since 1969---51 years," Judy said. "If there's an older operating dairy than ours still around here, we don't know who it is," she said.
“Mom and Pop” Mayfield Dairy in Lingleville likes it just the way it is
By Sherry Webb
From "business" to "industry"
Experiencing the dairy 'business" as it has grown into the dairy "industry," the Mayfields are fine with what they currently have. In addition to the dairy, Harvey raises a 120-head beef herd. The recent pandemic has caused problems but according to Harvey's thoughtful yet matter-of-fact attitude, it's nothing so drastic they can't overcome the hardships.
Getting hit from both sides---as dairy and beef cow sales have declined--- Harvey feels it's affected a lot of people worse than him. "But, we've all been here before and I keep thinking it's going to get better. So far it hasn't. I haven't sold any beef cows in a good while but it's not the first time this has happened."
Famous last words
Harvey's family never owned a dairy, but his father worked for one and Harvey also worked on a small dairy after school. "Several boys did this to make a little money," he said. But, by the time Harvey reached 23 years old, he had moved to Ft. Worth and said "I never wanted to see another cow again," he laughs.
Those were famous last words for Harvey. Judy's father, grandfather and great grandfather had owned a very small family dairy since 1884. He and Judy had gone to school together and married in June 1965. Harvey bought into the dairy idea, purchasing about 250 acres on a little property off Hwy. 67, near Rabbit Center, and began milking a small dairy herd.
"My grandfather, Calvin Roberson, used to milk about six cows and either sold his milk to the creamery in Stephenville or traded it for eggs or other things at Thurber. In 1994, we felt honored to go to Austin to receive a 100-year-old Family Heritage Farm certificate from Gov. Rick Perry. That was a very big deal for us," Judy remarked proudly.
As for her and Harvey's initiation into dairying, "It was basically a two-person operation---and not too much more than that today," she laughs. Although Judy admits she's not as physically active nowadays on the dairy as she was back then, she can still pull a cow, just like it was yesterday.
Mayfield family at work
The Mayfield Dairy currently employs one herdsman, two milkers, and oldest son Dean and younger son Ricky, who work alongside their dad. Even the Mayfields' granddaughter, Paige, an environmental chemist, works side by side with Harvey and the boys.
"When she graduated from college, Paige wanted to come back and work on the dairy and thrilled, we said 'okay,' " Judy said.
Even though they each have their own responsibilities, they all work together, keeping the family intact. "Ricky is especially known for 'cracking the whip' to make sure of this," Judy chuckles.
Free stall pros & cons
In 1978 the Mayfields moved the dairy from Rabbit Center to its current Lingleville location. To accommodate their cows, they built a 500-cow free stall barn in 2003, complete with necessities and sand bedding for the stalls.
Harvey hesitated when giving out kudos about his free stall. "I think I might have made a mistake," he said honestly, adding it has good points as well as bad.
"It's great when it's been raining a lot and the cows get muddy. The free stall keeps the cows clean and also helps to cut down on mastitis."
But, he sees some things he just doesn't care for. "I don't think all that concrete is good for the cows. Also, we flush the barn two times per day which means the cows' feet get wet twice a day. I don't think that's good for them either."
Cow comfort is vital
He mentioned the sand bedding is costly and even though it's plentiful in the area, he said the cows drag a lot of it out of the stalls when they leave the barn. "It's expensive to replace."
Harvey feels cow comfort is vital to herd health. "You know, sunshine---Vitamin D and all that---is good for the cows. But, it bothers me that there's some dairies when the cows don't ever see sunlight. Our cows are so much happier when we put them out to graze. They love that," he said. "We let them graze six months out of the year during summer months, each evening."
Self-contained as possible
The Mayfield milking parlor is a double-10 Herringbone with Germania automatic takeoffs. "The parlor is 40 years old but it still suits us." The dairy has two lagoons to catch runoff. "After we built the free stall, we don't use that second lagoon much. It's really just a back up."
The Mayfield Dairy is situated on 1100 acres. "It's really funny. When I bought the land it was $165 per acre. Now, it's $3000 to $3100 per acre. That's how much things have changed."
The Mayfields like their dairy to be as self-contained as possible, growing their own replacement heifers, cutting and baling a large supply of their coastal hay, and when necessary, buying alfalfa.
Besides the modernization of dairies, Harvey notes the Erath County dairy culture has been altered tremendously. He said he had seen the entire dairy infrastructure change along with it, with few places to buy bulk feed anymore as well as some other dairy needs. It's obvious to many Erath County residents that when the dairies greatly declined, they took the strip of Hwy. 377 businesses---between Stephenville and Dublin---along with them.
Mayfields survive hardships
Harvey points out that back in the 90s, there were 225 dairies compared to only 50 dairies nowadays. At that time, Erath County was the Number-One milk producing county in the state, whereas it is currently in fourth place.
The 90s was the beginning of various hardships for Erath County dairies, mainly due to strict state and federal regulations that required improvements of which many dairymen simply couldn't afford. Others left the business because of a growing number of complaints from neighbors and activists from downstream Waco. In total, the outcome was devastating for Erath County's dairy industry.
But the Mayfields managed to make their improvements and survived the entire ordeal. "I guess I had enough land where people just sorta' left us alone," Harvey said, "so we didn't have much trouble with neighbors, like some dairies did back then."
Phantom-like dairymen today
Since those earlier days, Harvey agrees dairymen have become phantom-like figures at old haunts they used to frequent. At one time, dairymen could be seen at various cafes in Dublin and at the local dairy sale barn each Friday with trucks and trailers inundating that familiar stretch of Hwy, 377. The camaraderie among dairymen was lively at just about any of these places in town.
"It was good then and I miss seeing friends and other dairymen. You used to could sit down and talk about anything over breakfast or lunch. They're just not around town anymore, except for a few Dutch. It's sure not the same---like it was back then."