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With photos, dairy could prove: ‘It didn’t happen under my care’

Progressive Dairyman Editor Walt Cooley Published on 30 June 2014

culled dairy cow

People who know Arizona dairyman Paul Rovey know he loves to photograph his worldwide travels. However, they may not know he also has pictures of every one of his cows – seriously, all of them.

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Several years ago, Rovey instated an industry-first protocol to photograph all cull cows prior to them leaving his dairy. Rovey now keeps the digital photos for at least three months and sometimes up to a year.

“A few years ago, as we began to see mistreated and downer animals showing up on the national news, I thought it would be very bad for me, and the organizations I represent, to have an animal show up [on TV] and then be identified as one of mine,” Rovey says of the events that led to him instituting the practice.

“If something happens after I turn over control of a cow to someone else, I want to be able to document her appearance, her health, etc., before she left my place.”

Employees on Rovey’s dairy have been trained to use a Canon digital SLR camera with a zoom lens to take a side-profile shot of each animal selected for sale prior to being loaded onto a truck for transport. The photos show the animal from head to tail, including her ear tag.

“Once she’s left our control and handling, we can’t control what happens,” Rovey says. “But we want to make sure we don’t ship problems to someone else.”

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Since instituting the practice, Rovey says he has referred to the digital photo archive just a “handful” of times.

For example, he’s cross-checked the photos of cows sent to auction that sold for a lower price than he thought they should have. When he disagrees with the fairness of the auction price, Rovey has evidence to fall back on.

“I believe we need to keep auctions alive and well because it’s a format for fair price discovery,” Rovey says. “The photos make everyone more aware. It’s beneficial to the animals and better for everyone involved.”

The handful of times employees have shipped a cow that didn’t bring a high price, Rovey’s used the photos as a training tool to teach employees what a cow should look like before it’s acceptable to ship her.

“It helps protect me as an operator, but it also lets employees know that I don’t want to send something that might be a problem because they know the owner is watching,” Rovey says.

As part of the photo archiving process, Rovey has also created a “spa pen” for cows that don’t look good enough for the camera and need a bit of extra attention.

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“We let them kick back, we feed them a good ration, and we let them get feeling better and looking better,” Rovey says of his “spa treatment.”

Cows in the spa pen receive a ration of milking-pen refusals plus some grain. Cows that don’t improve on their own may receive pharmaceutical treatment. Those who don’t respond to rest and treatment are properly euthanized.

“The majority of the spa pen goes on to be valuable assets to the beef industry,” Rovey says.
In addition to the photo archive and his training about what’s an acceptable animal to ship, Rovey has also instituted the industry’s “See it. Stop it.” program.

Employees receive training about acceptable animal care and handling practices and then sign an affidavit committing themselves to uphold those standards and report when they observe others not keeping them.

“I’m not everywhere on my dairy, but I want to make sure my employees are cognizant that they are responsible for an animal’s well-being and care,” Rovey says.

Rovey says he would be doing these extra measures even if he were not a high-profile dairyman.

“Unequivocally, yes. It’s made us more money than it’s cost us,” he says. “Whether you’re high-profile or not, every dairyman should be proud of making a high-quality milk product, and a high-quality beef product.”

Reluctant at first to discuss his unique protocol, Rovey now hopes more dairymen will follow his lead.
“I wish everyone in the country would be doing this,” he says. “We would really eliminate a lot of problems, and black eyes, if we all did.” PD

PHOTO
Arizona dairyman Paul Rovey has employees take a full side-profile photo of each cull cow just prior to leaving the dairy for auction or sale. He keeps the photos for at least three months. Cows not photo-ready spend time in the dairy’s “spa pen” to recover prior to shipment. Photo courtesy of Paul Rovey Dairy.

walt cooley

Walt Cooley
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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