Cash Cow

California dairy milks Deere loaders for all they’re worth

Cows lined up to feed

Don't tell anyone from Wisconsin, but it's a little known fact that California is the country's leading dairy state. Wisconsin Cheeseheads still corner the market on cheese production, but California is the leading producer of milk, butter, and ice cream.

F M Ranch in Tipton, California, resides in Tulare, the largest dairy county in the United States. The county produces almost a third of California's milk. If Tulare were a state, it would rank in the top five milk-producing states in the U.S.

F M Ranch milks 7,000 cows on its seven dairies. It produces milk for three different co-ops — Land O'Lakes®, California Dairies Inc., and Dairy Farmers of America. The milk is used mainly to produce cheese and butter.

"I love what I do," says owner Frank Mendonsa. "I love being with the animals and having my family involved with the business. It's hard a lot of the time. In fact, we're struggling right now in California, with low milk prices and all. But I'm optimistic things will get better."

I grew up on the farm. A lot of hard work and hard play taught us many good things about how to share and work together.

Frank Mendonsa
Frank Mendonsa
Owner, F M Ranch
Worker tends to cows being milked


Mendonsa started the dairy in 1985, when his father helped him buy 56 cows. "My dad immigrated here from the Azores in 1950. He started a small dairy in 1966 in Goshen, about 30 miles from here. I grew up on the farm. A lot of hard work and hard play taught us many good things about how to share and work together."

Today F M Ranch milks its 7,000 cows twice a day. Jerseys produce approximately 64 pounds of milk a day, while Holsteins produce around 75.

Getting the most milk production is all about the proper feeding of the cows. The dairy even employs a nutritionist to ensure a balanced ration.

Timing is also vital. "It's absolutely critical that the cows get fed at the same time every day," explains Mendonsa. "Our John Deere loaders ensure that happens. Consistency is extremely important around a dairy because without it, our cows won't produce as much milk."

The dairy bought its first new John Deere loader in 2008 and has since bought five more. "We start them up at five in the morning and run them hard about 10 hours a day. There isn’t a more important machine on a dairy than these loaders, because you can't feed the cows without one. Our Deere loaders have been extremely reliable."

Feeding thousands of cows means each loader has to handle 12 to 14 loads a day, and do it quickly. "Our 444K is big enough to handle a large-enough load, yet it's nimble enough to work adeptly within the confined space of a stable. And our operators love them because they are easy to run and the cabs are extremely comfortable."

444k loader moving feed at the dairy


Frank's brother, Joe Mendonsa, manages the dairies. Joe recalls how much harder it was to get things done before they discovered John Deere loaders.

"It was a nightmare. In the 1970s we used to run an old Scoopmobile loader that must have been from the 1950s. It was so bad that we'd feed the cows with it during the day and rebuild its engine at night. By the 1980s we were buying newer used loaders by other manufacturers, but we still had to work on them all the time."

F M Ranch was still a smaller dairy then, but as it grew a better solution was needed. "The bigger we became, the more efficient we needed to be. I found myself spending most of my time working on loaders. Frank finally bought a new John Deere loader, and it was probably the best business decision he ever made. It relieved the pressure on me tremendously," says Joe.

Uptime is excellent on the 444K and 544K Loaders. "All they need is regular maintenance and they run great. And the service and support we get from our local John Deere dealer, Papé Machinery, has been great."

Joe has run heavy construction equipment in a rock quarry. “"n those old loaders it was a lot of work sitting in that seat all day long. These new loaders are more efficient, easier to operate, and more comfortable. We're dairy people, not construction people. But we do have a full-time loader operator to load the feed mixers. And all the comfort and convenience mean a lot to the operators, even the ones who don’t run the loader full time."

The 444K hits the sweet spot for the dairy. "The new loaders are so much faster and efficient. The older dinosaurs we used to run seemed like they were twice as big. They weren't anywhere near as agile."

The Quik-Tatch™ makes a big difference, too. Joe explains, "There's a lot of support work we need to do besides feeding. Putting the bedding in and keeping the pens clean and dry are paramount to making sure the cow is healthy and comfortable. Quik-Tatch allows us to quickly go from feed bucket to forks to a manure bucket."

"Our loaders are just indispensable machines on a dairy. We couldn't run a facility of our size without them."

F M Ranch is serviced by Papé Machinery, Fowler, California.