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0107 PD: Dairy security systems offer an 'eye in the sky'

Published on 10 January 2007

Jerry Gonterman understands security. He installs and maintains security systems for school districts, Intermountain convenience stores and state liquor stores. In addition to protecting kids, gasoline and alcohol, Gonterman watches over milk tanks and parlors.

“A dairyman’s worst fear is a hot tank of milk,” Gonterman says.

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Growing up around dairies, Gonterman of Castleford, Idaho, learned what peace of mind means to a dairyman – efficiency, profitability, adherence to protocols and safety for animals and employees. This understanding, he says, has earned him respect from his dairy producer clients.

“What I admire most about dairymen is the respect I’ve been given,” Gonterman says. “I do make it a personal issue to help them out.”

About two years ago, Gonterman was pulling a 1-ton baler around alfalfa fields as a custom hay baler for dairy operations. Throughout his schooling, he dabbled in computers, and in 2004 he joined his current employer, Explorer Technologies. He then began installing cameras on dairies.

In the last two years, Gonterman and the company have installed more than 150 security systems on dairies in seven states. Hardwire or wireless, the cameras watch employees in the parlor, cottonseed supplies in feed bins and the comings and goings of milk trucks. Today Gonterman oversees six two-man crews and visits dairies two days a week.

His visits have convinced him that security at dairies has improved in the last few years. Much of the improvement has come about since 9/11 because of government grants and state-sponsored programs. Everyone, he says, is more aware of the potential for intentional or unintentional damage to their business, including dairy producers.

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“Since dairies have realized what could happen, our business has quadrupled,” Gonterman says.

Dairymen are installing security cameras for different reasons, Gonterman says. Some use cameras in the milking parlor to ensure employees follow the farm’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). Others use the cameras to monitor multiple dairy operations from one centralized location. One of Gonterman’s clients reorders feed by remotely monitoring the dairy business’ feed bins. Altogether the cameras, Gonterman believes, contribute to better dairy efficiency.

“As dairies get larger, they will either have to hire more people or have a camera so they can see what’s going on,” Gonterman says.

Sheriff’s deputies and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspectors have used video shot by Gonterman’s cameras to investigate and prosecute alleged crimes and accidents. The cameras truly are ‘an eye in the sky,’ Gonterman says.

Although it’s not his favorite part of the job, Gonterman says he’s still willing to harness himself to the steep roof of a freestall barn in high winds to fix a dairyman’s wireless camera system. He believes it’s worth it, considering what it provides dairy producers – peace of mind.

“You really should want to know who’s on your place and what’s going on,” Gonterman says. PD

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