By Rivka Borochov
Why is it that Israel can get about 12,000 liters of milk per year per cow, while in other countries the total yield is only about 8,000?
What has made Israeli cows the record-breaking milkers that they are?
Why is the Israeli milking technology from firms such as AfiMilk now found on dairy farms the world over?
How can farmers and the milk industry everywhere make their cowsheds clean and healthy and the entire milk market more environmentally sound?
Israel’s Volcani Center, a government-run research body, provides some clues.
Over in the Volcani Center’s cowshed, kept cool during the hot noonday sun with water misters and fans, is Joshuah Miron. He heads the Ruminant Sciences Department and oversees the health and welfare of the Volcani Center’s herd of 230 milking cows in Beit Dagan, Israel.
He talks while his cows munch in the background.
Israel’s extraordinary success in the dairy industry is made up of three important ingredients: enhanced breeding to make better milkers; advanced nutrition science; and a team of highly educated dairy farmers, most of whom have an undergraduate degree in the field. Put these three together and you get the answer, which starts at the Volcani Center.
Virtually all of Israel’s 1,000 dairy farms take advantage of Volcani research designed to overcome challenges in the milk industry. The center’s work has surpassed even its own expectations, says Miron.
Consider that Israel is a small country with limited arable land. For feedstock, says Miron, Israel can “grow only 30 percent of the cow’s diet. The rest has to come from somewhere. If the rest is imported, then the price of milk would be very high. Grain costs $340 per ton. Just to feed them, we couldn’t support our cows.”
The Volcani Center came up with a nutritious and earth-friendly solution: using some 630,000 tons of wet vegetarian byproducts from the olive oil and food production industries to feed its dairy cows. Otherwise, these byproducts would be treated as waste and taken to the desert and buried, according to Miron.
Distress sensors for happy cows
Milk yield and quality is directly related to the health and wellbeing of the cows. In Israeli cowsheds, if a cow experiences any sort of distress, it will be sensed immediately, as each cow is hooked up to an AfiMilk monitor produced at an Israeli kibbutz based on Volcani research. Its infrared sensors for determining infection or inferior milk quality help the dairy manager track the health of every milk cow in real time, along with fat and protein content and overall output.
The AfiMilk system, sold worldwide by a private company, measures electrical conductivity in the milk as it passes from the cow’s teat into the pipe system. Miron says it can sense bacteria in the cow’s udder, a sign of dietary stress; or mastitis, a painful udder condition that would need treatment.
Continuing the clever “eco-system” design of the Israeli dairy industry, the fodder that is grown in Israel for cattle is raised with recycled water. And the cow manure from the dairy is hauled back to the farmer’s fields as fertilizer to start the process all over again.
Israeli dairy-farming expertise such as this helps dairies in many developing nations make milking a more efficient process.