LOS LUNAS — After nearly 60 years in the dairy business, the Jarratt Dairy on South Los Lentes Road in Los Lunas has closed. The farm could not withstand the changes in the milk industry.
Jarratt Dairy sits on 113 acres with a milking barn, hay sheds and a horizon of stock pens. The roar of a tractor comes and goes as the hired hand swings around to feed the remaining livestock.
Pulling into the yard on his green John Deer tractor, Raymond L. Jarratt has just come in from a field he’s discing for fall planting. At 96 years old, Jarratt is starting over and diversifying his farm in order to survive.
“You don’t never retire,” Jarratt said. “When you retire, you don’t have anything to do, nothing to look forward to. I plan right now just (as if) I was a teenager or a 25-year-old or a 30-year-old.
“I never think there’s going to be an end, a stopping point to what I want to do because you’ve got to keep active and keep your mind going,” the dairyman continued. “I’ve got lots to do yet.”
The dairy barn that is no longer needed will be torn down in the near future to make room for his new venture.
Jarratt said federal and state regulations have been a challenge for the small dairy.
“They’re for the birds,” Jarratt said of the regulations that have piled up over the years.
“They run the small businesses out,” adds his daughter, Janet, one of three siblings.
At one time, Valencia County was home to 32 dairies. Now, only four dairies remain.
“It was the dairy capital of New Mexico,” she said.
The Jarratt Dairy has been a fixture in Valencia County for decades, milking more than 300 cows daily. It was a dairy when Jarratt bought it in 1960, and at one time it was one of the larger dairies in the state.
Jarratt and his wife, Fenella, lived and farmed in Stephensville, Texas, before moving to New Mexico in 1956.
“Ever since I was big enough to milk a cow — I was raised milking cows,” Jarratt said. “We were milking cows and selling butter.”
Several years of drought forced him to look for work elsewhere. He answered an ad in Hoard’s Dairymen for a job at Valley Gold Dairy, south of Albuquerque, now Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge. Jarratt had managed the dairy for three years before deciding to find a place of his own. That’s how he came to Valencia County.
“He borrowed enough money from Albuquerque National Bank manager Doug Barfield, who basically loaned him the money on a handshake,” Janet said.
The tall, lanky white-haired man in a cowboy hat and overalls was once a promising athlete and earned a full-ride athletic scholarship to Texas A & M, where he received his degree in agronomy.
“It was the second scholarship the school ever gave,” said Janet.
At that time, she said, Texas A & M was a military school, so when her father graduated, in the spring of 1942 he was instantly in the military as an officer and off he went to World War II.
“He was in both Europe and the Pacific,” Janet said.
When Jarratt returned to Texas, he went to work for the Soil Conservation Service and continued farming in Stephenville, while Fenella worked in the county superintendent’s office.
Then the seven-year drought sent the Jarratts to New Mexico.
Janet was born in New Mexico and has worked on the farm all her life with her siblings, Karen, the eldest sister; and older brother, Ray Jr.
Under a welcome cloudy sky, Janet and Ray Jr. are digging post holes and building fence. It’s hot and humid but they all wear pants, long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats.
“The regulations make it too hard for the small man to stay in business,” their father said.
Water and manure regulations, plus permitting requirements and mandated workmen’s compensation on small dairies made the enterprise more costly and milk revenues didn’t keep up with the increased costs.
Janet said people say buy local, but they’re are used to cheap food prices and don’t want to pay for better quality, local products.
Farmers are also required to carry product liability insurance and there are other new costs of production that larger enterprises can absorb more readily than small operations.
“If milk had kept up with all other goods, including wages, it would be $50 for a hundred pounds (of milk) now, not in the teens,” Janet said. “You had more net income having a dairy in the ’30s than you do today.
“That’s a problem and it’s part of the economy of scale because you don’t get enough net dollars to actually survive unless you’re huge because of the tiny profit margin,” she continued.
The Jarratts aren’t the only small farm to struggle. Small farms have given way to larger, industrial operations in a trend that began generations ago. Get big or get out seems to be the standard, Janet said.
“The economy of scale means that we have fewer and fewer people actually producing food,” she said. “Cheaper at any cost.”
To stay in business and keep the farm, the Jarratts hope diversifying and going into beef cattle will be a successful venture.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the beef cattle business all my life — ever since I was a little kid riding horses I’ve wanted to ride the range,” Jarratt said.
They’re currently selling Ayrshire steers on the hoof from their dairy cows. Janet said they raise their cattle without hormone implants or additives in the feed.
“They’re all natural, grass fed and you’ll get a lot more meat per dollar,” she said.
They’ll raise stocker cattle as well and are looking into exporting frozen, boxed beef.
A squeeze shoot has already been purchased, and Janet said they offer cattle boarding for other beef producers who need a place to park a herd for the winter.
“If my arithmetic is correct, it’ll be alright,” Jarratt said. “My wife always said I could figure and make anything work.”