This week we are excited to introduce to you Mark Rovey of Rovey Dairy. Mark is a current board member of the Arizona Beef Council and is the animal manager at his family’s farm in Glendale, Arizona. Enjoy learning about this unique farm!
Arizona Beef Council: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and about your dairy:
Mark Rovey: I’ve been managing the animals (this includes dairy cattle, beef cattle, dairy sheep, meat sheep, Watusi cattle, buffalo, llamas, and a donkey named Cinco) for 6 years. I gained experience in this role by helping my dad or other managers in the years prior. Basically, this is my life. I don’t really do anything else. This is what I do. Beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, something with the Watusis on the weekend.
Currently, on the dairy, we milk 2,000 Jersey cows. The dairy was started in 1943. It was a Jersey dairy when my grandpa owned and ran it. My father, Paul Rovey, bought the dairy from my grandpa in the 70’s and converted it to Holstein dairy cows. In the early 90s, late 80s, he then started transitioning back to Jerseys. This started as a rogue 4H experiment because my older sister was starting to show animals and he wanted something more manageable for her to handle. He kept a few in the milking herd and liked them so much he just kept buying more and selling the Holsteins. We’ve been back to 100% Jerseys for the last 6 years. We only have one token Holstein left.
Diversification is an important part of our farm which is easily seen as you walk around our property. One our newest projects is running a herd of milking sheep. Our goal is to turn the sheep’s milk into cheese and sell it at our upcoming local store and around the valley.
How does the technology you use now differ from the technology that was passed down to you or that previous generations may have used?
One of the most important technologies is we now use is artificial insemination. This practice allows us to make a better animal by selecting and using the best bulls from across the country versus being limited to the bulls who are nearby.
Another technology we harness is the power of cooling systems. As soon as the sun comes up, we have fans and misters in all pens and those go on. If it’s above 80 degrees, we’re cooling our animals. Genetics help us with this too as we can select for animals who tolerate the heat more efficiently. We can turn cooling on a littler later in the year because the Jerseys can efficiently handle the heat.
Record keeping is another important one. All the cows have an electronic identification tag in their ears which allows us to use a wand to scan each cow which transfers to a hand-held computer. The wand will tell us if we need to do something with that cow if she is in the wrong pen or many other useful bits of information. Once you scan an animal with the wand, a wealth of information appears on the hand-held computer such as when she was born, her mom, how much milk she is giving, how much milk her mom gave, health issues and so much more. This helps us to keep extremely accurate records and eliminates the chance for human error when recording this information.
What are some common misconceptions that you think people may have about the way your raise your cows?
One of the most common misconceptions I hear is there is a chance of antibiotics being in milk. Every single load of milk which leaves our place is sampled not once but up to five times for quality and measuring of antibiotic residue. We take two samples here at our farm before it leaves. Then when it gets to United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA – a milk marketing cooperative owned by Arizona dairy families) before it gets unloaded, there are least two more samples taken. All those samples are tested before it’s taken off the milk truck. Each tank of milk is tested for quality and somatic cell count to ensure the milk is of the highest quality. If there is one cow which was given antibiotics and her milk somehow gets into a milk truck, even if there are 50,000 pounds of milk in that tank, it still flags it which means the entire tank of milk would be dumped and not used. If there is any antibiotic residue in the milk, it will get dumped, and there is no way around it. So many great things have happened with regards to milk quality over the years to ensure it is an incredibly safe product. Milk is tested more than any other food product.
What is the most important thing that you do on your dairy and farm every day to make sure you are raising safe beef for the consumer?
The job I make sure I do every single day is ensuring all the animals we are responsible for having everything they need. If they need shade, feed or water, I make sure they have those things. If our animals are healthy, we’re not spending money to make them healthy. The easiest way to ensure they stay healthy is to give them a healthy, clean environment with good feed. It makes our whole world easier if they just start in a good environment where they are healthy.
Training is another important component. The training helps our employees to know what the medicines and protocols are if they need to use them. It’s only reasonable to understand there will be a few animals who need to be treated but we need to make sure the employees know how to deal with the illness to ensure a quick recovery for our cows. They are trained on how to give the right dosage and how that medicine should be administered.
We train all of our employees using the National Dairy FARM Program which is a quality assurance program to ensure the best possible care and handling of dairy cows. We hold meetings twice a month to keep up on the skills we’ve learned using this program. This is important to ensure everyone knows how to handle cattle in the best way possible.
What is the most important piece of information that you would want people to know about you and the work you do on your dairy every day?
We’re here to have a business and make enough money to live. But to be able to do that we must take care of the animals so they stay healthy, can produce wholesome milk, and stay happy all while still making a living. Sometimes it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. We work to keep the animals healthy, ensure the product is high quality, and to keep doing what we’ve been doing for a long time.
How do you interact with your community?
My cousins started showing cattle back in the 80s and my dad noticed most people had to go out of state to buy their steers. They were spending a lot of money and not making anything back after the fair was over. He started buying beef cows and breeding them for show cattle. My cousins, siblings, and even kids from the surrounding neighborhood and schools benefited from this decision. A lot of the kids from the surrounding neighborhood didn’t have any sort of agriculture background. In fact, many of them lived in apartments and had never even owned a cat or dog. My dad would get them a steer, allow them to raise it here at the dairy, and teach them how to do the work required to prepare a steer for the show ring. Through this process, these kids would get an experience in raising and showing an animal while being surrounded by all sorts of agriculture. Some kids couldn’t afford this project so he would give the kids the steer and let them raise it on the property. Then after the fair, the kids would pay back the price of the steer and feed. They would make a little bit of money and leave with a good experience of agriculture. That was his goal. He figured these kids would end up being doctors, lawyers, politicians, etc., and they would have a good, firsthand experience with agriculture with the hope that they would come back to him with questions in the future instead of just looking it up on the internet.
In 2007, I took over the beef cows. I bred differently and kept more heifers back. In the last ten years, our show cattle program has come a long way. We still work with kids on payment plans and paying after fair, but those kids who also want to be competitive, can still come and buy something they can do well with here. It’s just getting better and better but still with the idea of helping kids out. What really matters to us is they can get a good project and learn something about animal agriculture from that animal.
If you could describe in one word the life of a dairyman, what would it be?
Interesting (he said with a chuckle).
Lastly and of course most importantly, what is your favorite cut of beef and how do you like to prepare it?
My favorite beef is anything directly off the grill. No plate or anything. Just standing next to the grill, grabbing a piece and eating it right there. It doesn’t matter what cut of beef it is as longs as it’s fresh off the grill. Carne Asada directly off the grill is perfect. It’s the whole atmosphere of a cookout with friends and family that makes it even better.