'The Israeli cow is the best in the world'

Through continuously-improved research and practices, Israeli dairy cows have become particularly efficient milk producers.

cow farm 311 (photo credit: Liat Collins)
cow farm 311
(photo credit: Liat Collins)
Plunging her head through a wrought iron gate and into her own private feeding bin, cow #3028 chomps peacefully at a pile of roughage and grains in her feces-filled Beit Dagan barn.
“This cow is recognized by the antenna – only one cow can get into any position,” said Dr. Joshua Miron, of the Department of Ruminants Sciences at the Volcani Center’s Institute of Animal Science.
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“None of the other cows, if she wants, will be entering.”
Number 3028 is one of about 230 dairy cows at the center, which is focused on producing milk as efficiently as possible and developing new techniques for the Israeli dairy farming industry, Miron explained.
Because Israel’s dry climate necessitates the expensive import of 30 percent of cow feed ingredients from abroad – namely, grains and soy – the Israeli cow must produce milk particularly efficiently. Through continuously- improved research and practices, Miron was proud to say that the cows now produce about 12,000 kg. of milk annually.
“In New Zealand, cows get up in the morning, stretch their legs and graze,” Miron said, stressing just how efficient an Israeli cow must be in order to make up for her climactic and economic disadvantages.
The Israeli cows – Holstein- Frizyan cattle – are able to be so efficient in part because of their light weight, which is typically a mere 600 kg. rather than the American standard 700 kg., and leads to a higher rate of milk production, according to Miron. Meanwhile, he added, nearly all Israeli dairy managers have university degrees in raising cattle, a quality that serves to a milking cow’s advantage.
Due to the cows’ efficiency, milk in Israel is still able to be sold at 50 cents per kg., which while higher than American prices at $0.40/kg and much higher than New Zealand prices at $0.20-.25/kg, is still quite reasonable given the circumstances, according to Miron. Israeli dairy farmers, unlike those in many other places around the world, do not receive any government subsidies for milk production, he added.
As part of a current project aiming to even further increase milk production efficiency, certain measurements are currently being taken and observed in each cow’s individual feeding bin.
“We are measuring two major parameters. One is the [digestion] of the cow – [using] the same feed for all the cows – and the second thing is the identification of the rumen population,” Miron explained, referring to the physical components of the first alimentary chamber of the cow.
The main focus of the research is to differentiate among the cows that are more and less efficient, and then determine how that efficiency is connected to the contents of the rumen, he continued.
Meanwhile, some of the rumen fluid is then taken for genetic study by molecular biologists.
An Israeli dairy cow begins producing milk at two years old and gives birth to her first calf at age two-and-a-half, with the continued goal of delivering a new calf each year as the cycle repeats itself, until the cow is no longer productive and turned over to the meat industry at eight years old, Miron explained.
“It is poorer quality than fresh bull’s meat – they are old ladies,” Miron said, noting, however, that the meat can still definitely be consumed at this point, but that bulls are usually slaughtered at only six months old.
The cows are tracked via GPS tags in the milking station that constantly monitor their footsteps, an increase of which by about 70-100% indicates that a cow is in estrus, and that insemination must occur within six to 12 hours, according to Miron.
“They are not seeing a male in their life,” he said.
Meanwhile, Miron and his staff make sure the cows are comfortable by taking “satisfaction measures,” calculating and assuring that they’re lying down eight to nine hours a day, dedicating about 200 minutes to eating and spending five to seven hours ruminating their food.
“The Israeli cow is the best in the world,” Miron said.