In some ways, José Torres is like thousands of other dairy farmers across the United States- he’s hard-working, puts his cows’ needs before his own, and lays awake at night wondering if he’s making the right decisions. But in other ways, Torres couldn’t be more unique.
Torres, a 1st generation dairy farmer in Elma, Washington didn’t grow up on a dairy or even in the U.S.
Originally from Mexico, Torres is one of 12 brothers and sisters. Growing up in a large family meant money was tight, so at 14 he dropped out of school to work full-time on an avocado farm. From this young age, Torres realized the importance of hard work.
In 1992, Torres came to the U.S. to work with his brother on a dairy in Washington for a better life and to provide more stable financial support for his family.
Torres worked on a few dairies, gaining experience in the milking parlor, as well as maintenance jobs as they arose. In 1995, he took a part-time job cutting silage on Bill Goeres’ farm in southwest Washington. Little did he know, this side job would end up changing his life forever.
Although Goeres hired Torres just for help through the busy season, he saw a spark in him and the will to work hard and was interested in keeping him around. He even gave Torres an odd job to test him and see if he was serious about working on the dairy.
To this day, Torres recalls that unusual job.
“He asked me to put silicon on every single nail in one of the barn’s roofs. I just said okay and got it done,” Torres explained.
The completion of this task payed off for Torres, as he was given more hours and eventually promoted to a job in the milking parlor.
Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and before Torres knew it he had been working on the farm for years. With his seniority, his responsibilities on the farm grew, as well as his relationship with Goeres.
Goeres started teaching Torres how to care for the cows and raise the calves and eventually put him in charge of managing the herd health plans, as well as the other employees.
“Sometimes managing the cows was easier than the people,” Torres said with a laugh.
While Torres was extremely happy with his work on the dairy, he felt something was missing.
“I’d never actually owned anything in my life, so I asked Bill if he could help me get something that I could have my name on, like a house,” said Torres.
With Torres’ love for dairy farming in mind, Goeres offered to help Torres start his own herd of dairy cattle. With Goeres’ help, Torres was able to build up his herd and was hopeful to buy his own farm someday with his cows.
Although there were some bumps and learning curves along the way, Torres felt he had made a good decision.
“I knew I invested in something good, because I really loved what I was doing. Farming is not an easy job,” he expressed. “But, really nothing is easy in life. If you do your job, the best you can and enjoy it, that’s really all anyone can ask for.”
According to Torres, Goeres never really missed a day coming around the farm to check in on the cows and employees. That was until 2012.
“There were a few days he called me and asked to cover for him because he couldn’t make it to the farm, but I didn’t think anything of it,” said Torres.
One morning around 5 a.m., Goeres came to the milking parlor and told Torres that this might be the last day he would see him.
Confused, Torres started asking Goeres what he was talking about.
“I have cancer,” Goeres told Torres.
With his head spinning in circles, Torres responded to his friend’s news in the only way he knew he could, “You go get treatment; don’t worry about anything here. I’ll take care of the farm the same way I’ve been doing it.”
The next few months were long. Torres would visit Bill frequently throughout his treatments and fill him in on the cows’ health and business at the farm.
Sadly, Goeres’ health wasn’t improving and he knew someone had to be in charge of the farm.
“That’s when we worked the contract out,” Torres said.
In 2014, Torres bought the farm from Goeres. He combined his herd of about 90 cows with Goeres’ herd and kept doing what he did best- dairy farming.
Goeres worked with Torres on flexible payments because he wanted to see him succeed without the added financial stress.
Not long after this, Torres went to visit Bill to fill him in on news with the farm.
“I remember trying to ask him something about the bills, but he wasn’t responding and I could tell he was having a hard time breathing,” recalled Torres. “So, I grabbed his hand and told him, ‘if you’re ready to go, go. Don’t worry about anything here; I’ll take care of the cows just like you’ve taught me.’”
Minutes later, Goeres took his last breaths with his hand in Torres’.
“Honestly, my head was up in the sky for a month,” said Torres. “I didn’t understand why this happened to such a good man, but I realized that I needed to do the best I could with the resources I had.”
And that is exactly what he has done. Today, Torres is milking about 300 cows and has the farm running like a well-oiled machine. Torres holds the values that Goeres himself held when he was in charge of the farm, with prestigious animal care and employee satisfaction at the top of his priorities.
“I know what it’s like to be an employee,” Torres expalined. “So, I make an extra effort to make mine happy. I’ll give extra coffee breaks or if I get some meat butchered, I share it with them. We’re just a big team; if we work together and respect each other, everyone is happier.”
Torres is also raising three boys and two nephews on the farm with his wife. Two of his sons help on the farm and Torres is proud that he can teach his kids the value of hard work in the family business.
Local schools and FFA chapters frequently visit Torres’ dairy for tours.
“The tours are one of my favorite parts of running the dairy. I love teaching kids about farming. I’m always reading books and learning new things to share with the groups that come here.”
Torres, like all dairy farmers tries to do the best he can.
“I never dreamed in my life that I would have something like this,” Torres reflected as he checked on some of his cows.
“Sometimes when I’m heading in at night, I’ll look up at the stars and I wonder if Bill is one of those stars looking down on me,” concluded Torres. “I just hope he thinks I’m doing a good job and doesn’t think I’m crazy.”