Pinpointing exactly how comfortable a cow is with her surroundings is critical to her resultant milk production, according to a kibbutzbased dairy farming company that has now exported its milking technologies to 52 countries around the world.

The company, AfiMilk, is run by S.A.E. Afikim, which until about a year ago was fully owned by Kibbutz Afikim in the Jordan Valley near the Sea of Galilee, since the firm’s establishment 33 years ago, according to company data. Producing electronic milk meters during its early years, AfiMilk now distributes advanced software systems that provide tools for farmers to manage every single aspect of their herd on site or remotely through the Internet, with details as precise as how much each individual cow has rested, explained Pinhas Gur, a sales representative for the company who also used to be a dairy farmer himself. The “herd management systems” also extend to sheep and goats, and even camels, he said.

“The first electronic meter for measuring milk was invented here by this company,” Gur told The Jerusalem Post.

The milk meters produced by the firm’s AfiLab branch display measurements online with details such as how much butter fat and protein – higher levels of both achieve higher payoffs – is inside each milk sample, so that farmers can determine how successful in sales their products will be, Gur said. Part of the system includes an identification tag for each cow, so that when she comes into the parlor or steps onto a weigh station, the computer recognizes her immediately.

Meanwhile, a pedometer strapped onto her leg measures her daily activity, which increases significantly during her fertile period.

“We know which cows are in heat and which cows to inseminate,” Gur said.

The whole system – which puts a huge emphasis on maintaining animal welfare – can determine cow comfort as well, monitoring how much each animal rests, according to Gur.

“This way you can tell if the cows are comfortable, if they’re getting their food on time, if they’re getting enough time to lie down and rest,” Gur said. “Every time the cow comes to the milking parlor, all the data on how much time she spent lying down, how much time she was active [is relayed through the system] and is analyzed in reports.”

AfiMilk has been working with universities all over the world – including the University of Florida, Virginia Tech, Oregon State University, schools in Italy and Germany and Israel’s Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research – to determine specific techniques that go into milking, such as the ideal amount of time a cow should spend lying down to produce an optimal amount of milk.

A farm manager at the University of Florida, Eric Diepersloot, finds the AfiMilk system particularly affective in handling his herds.

"The use of daily milk weights and activity for improving cow health is nothing new in the dairy industry, but when it is combined with daily milk components and daily body weight we can take it to a new level," Diepersloot said. "Using specific parameters and combining the above inputs to create an automatic system to perform a health check on each individual animal every time she comes through the milking parlor – this is what makes the AfiMilk system excel. When you can combine this kind of system with an automatic sort for all cows that need a health check or treatment, and the software to make data entry easy you have: No Mistakes, No Missed Treatments and Happy Healthy Cows.

"Healthy cows will in turn have better production of top quality milk and increase the dairy farmer’s bottom line as we have seen first hand at the University of Florida Dairy Unit," he added.

A farm manager at the University of Florida, Eric Diepersloot, finds the AfiMilk system particularly affective in handling his herds.

"The use of daily milk weights and activity for improving cow health is nothing new in the dairy industry, but when it is combined with daily milk components and daily body weight we can take it to a new level," Diepersloot said. "Using specific parameters and combining the above inputs to create an automatic system to perform a health check on each individual animal every time she comes through the milking parlor – this is what makes the AfiMilk system excel. When you can combine this kind of system with an automatic sort for all cows that need a health check or treatment, and the software to make data entry easy you have : No Mistakes, No Missed Treatments and Happy Healthy Cows.

"Healthy cows will in turn have better production of top quality milk and increase the dairy farmers bottom line as we have seen first hand at the University of Florida Dairy Unit," he added.

While AfiMilk first started expanding to Western Europe and the US – its biggest market – in the end of the 1970s, the company today has reached countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, according to Gur.

One of the most recent projects to take off was an initiative in Vietnam that began through a bank owner’s efforts to “give back to the region she came from,” Gur said.

“She wanted to be the biggest milk producer in Vietnam and make sure every Vietnamese child would get a glass of milk every day,” he added, stressing how the woman had purchased a huge amount of land for this purpose in formerly contentious and still impoverished northern Vietnam.

The project is set to be completed in 2015 with 32,000 milking cows, and already has 3,000 actively milking along with 9,000 others, Gur said. While the average consumption of milk in Israel is 250 liters per person annually and in the US is even more, Vietnamese people only currently consume about 7 liters per person annually because the milk simply isn’t as available, he explained.

“We run the whole project. We are not builders, but we provide the right companies and contractors. We are responsible for food-crops, feed centers, and we built the milking centers there,” Gur said, adding that 30 AfiMilk field managers are on site in Vietnam. “We’ve taken on the responsibility of managing and training and consulting for five years. Each Israeli manager has a Vietnamese counterpart who is learning [from him or her].”

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese trainees also come to Israel occasionally for seminars on success in herd management, according to Gur. The cattle thus far have been imported from New Zealand, but will also come from the US and Australia.

In addition to Vietnam, the company has a particularly strong presence in China.

“In China we started out with projects like [the one in Vietnam] – they were funded by the Chinese government and with the help of the Agricultural Ministry there,” Gur said. “But now we have our own branch of the company in China. Independent companies are buying our products and a lot of farms are using them.”

Soon, AfiMilk will also be expanding operations to Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia, Gur said. Aside from those in Vietnam and China, AfiMilk already has full-fledged company branches in the US and in Brazil, as well as distributors all over Europe, and works locally with people in Egypt, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan.

The newest technology to come from the company in the near future will be a tool called “AfiNet,” which will allow farmers to consolidate their reports on a website and share data with other farmers and nutritionists. It will provide additional passwords to outside users, who can help improve milking conditions through consultations, according to Gur.

“Nutritionists can look at 12 farms and see what they’re doing, consolidate data and make comparisons between farms 3 and 5,” he said. “If you take farm owners in Mexico sitting in the capital city, they can observe their farms on the Internet.”

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