September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Over the years, the city of Glendale, just northwest of Phoenix, Ariz., has grown up around the 2,000-acre operation. To illustrate the situation, owner Paul Rovey said the football stadium of the Arizona Cardinals lies just 1.5 miles away.
"We're in the middle of the city. But we're still able to dairy," Rovey said.
The 300 ewes clip the grassy pastures at the edge of the dairy. Those pastures, plus trees, serve as buffers from the noisy, busy city. And, the pastoral scene of grazing sheep paints a pleasant portrait of the dairy and enhances its image. Rovey said the sheep provide much better public relations than a human astride a tractor towing a mower.
"The sheep make a nice presentation," he said.
Make no mistake about it. Rovey Dairy does have cows, and plenty of them.
The milking herd consists of 2,000 Jerseys. Add in dry cows and springers and the total grows to 2,500 head. Factor in all the other heifers - due partly to the dairy's use of sexed semen - and the number swells by another 2,400.
Founded in 1943 by Rovey's father, Emil, the place was home to all Holsteins until the oldest daughter of Rovey and his wife, Deborah, was old enough to begin showing cattle. The Roveys figured the smaller Jerseys would be easier for Traesa to handle. Now the dairy has been home to nothing but Jerseys for several years. Rovey said he likes everything about them.
"They breed well; the solids in their milk really make a difference (in the milk check); they have great feet, legs and udders; they're easier on the facility. They're just great cows," he said.
On twice-a-day milking in a double-16, rapid-exit, parallel parlor, the herd carries a rolling average of approximately 16,700 pounds of milk. The fat test averages about 4.8 percent, and the protein averages 3.9 percent.
Summer's heat depresses those numbers a bit. Glendale gets "at least 60 days over 110 degrees," Rovey said. And, the mercury can climb into the low 120s.
The cows stay in open lots. Fans and misters help cool them.
Dairy farmers might be thinking that Rovey's name seems familiar. If so, that's because he chairs the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). It's a post he's held since 2012.
The council has 116 members who are dairy farmers, milk processors, ingredient suppliers, export traders and others in the dairy industry. The group focuses on market development and access, and trade policy. Its work is supported mainly by the national dairy checkoff.
Besides his USDEC work, Rovey makes time to serve as the president of the United Dairymen of Arizona. It's the co-op that buys his farm's milk. The cooperative supplies milk to stores, and makes cheese, butter and various milk-based powders.
"I have great employees, and a number of them are my children and my wife. They take good care of things while I'm away," Rovey said.
The Roveys have five children. Traesa has a cosmetology business; Tamara works in the dairy's office; Eric works off the farm; Mark is employed on the farm; and Brett is in college. Deborah helps in the office, and Rovey mostly manages - although he does enjoy the occasional hands-on jobs, too.
All tallied, the dairy and farm employ 43. Thirty-five people are on the cow side and eight work with the crops.
Rovey Dairy grows corn for silage, sorghum for silage, barley, oats and sugar beets. Ryegrass and clover are new to the farm this year.
This is the second year for sugar beets. The root crop is dug with a beet harvester, and the beets - some of them as big as bowling balls and basketballs - are fed directly to the lactating cows or are stored in a commodity bin for as long as four days.
Rovey said the beets, with their green tops intact, are very digestible and high in fiber. They replace some of the grain and corn silage that's in the ration. Beets make up no more than 15 percent of the ration's dry matter.
Last year the beets yielded 50 tons per acre. But Rovey said he thinks they can do as well as 60 to 65 tons this year because they were planted earlier.
They're planted in early fall, grow through the winter, and are dug in early spring. That timing lets Rovey Dairy plant sorghum after the beets are harvested. Barley, sorghum, oats, triticale or corn might be planted next. Depending on the exact rotation, the farm can get 2.5 to three crops a year off any particular field.
As might be expected, all of the Roveys' crops are irrigated. Maricopa County, their part of the Grand Canyon State, gets seven inches of rain annually. A series of canals brings water from reservoirs in the mountains.
Arizona is still in a drought.
"This year there's adequate water and they're not talking about rationing," Rovey said.
Along with the Jerseys and sheep, Rovey has 45 head of eye-catching livestock. They're Watusis, whose horns can stretch eight feet wide.
Rovey got started with these African cattle after college when he wanted a breed to use in team roping. Eventually, he started a roping arena, holding jackpot contests there.
"Whatever you're doing, you try to make money with it," he said.
His Watusi herd got going when he artificially inseminated some of his dairy cows. Through years of continual crossing, his Watusis are essentially purebreds now.
The cattle with the big horns are a big hit at fairs and in parades.
"We have a number of them we can ride and lead, and we built a car so we can give them a ride. They're a lot of fun," Rovey said.
Twice a year, to thank military veterans, the Roveys hold a dove hunt, in conjunction with Wounded Heroes. The event has drawn some 150 participants.
Like any dairy farmer, Rovey has a few concerns. Two of them are being able to get enough water, and government regulation. Farming in an urban area doesn't seem to bother him. Still, Rovey said he expects the dairy and farm will end up moving to a less-populated spot in Arizona someday.
"Our family has been in Arizona since 1912," he said. "This is all we know."[[In-content Ad]]
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