Holy (Hi-Tech) Cow

About two-thirds of the milk is processed by the giant produce company Tnuva, while much of the rest is processed by Strauss, a global food company.

cows 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
cows 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
PASSOVER HAS COME AND GONE and it is time to prepare for Shavuot, the festival of weeks. Our thoughts during Shavuot turn to milk, because traditionally dairy dishes are served. Why? No one knows for sure. The explanation I prefer is that the people of Israel received the Torah on Shavuot, and the Song of Songs, read on Passover, likens Torah to milk (“Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue,” 4:11).
Be honest. When was the last time you hugged a cow? Do you really know the facts about our amazing pampered world-leading software-intensive air-conditioned, genetically engineered cows? Israeli cows’ udders, I discovered, may not be made of shiny silicon wafer, but their feeding and breeding are pure high technology. Think of them as you wolf down that luscious cheesecake.
According to the World Competitiveness Yearbook, Israel leads the world in agricultural productivity, with GDP per person employed of $88,525, nearly 10 percent higher than the US. Sure, give credit to the earlyrising kibbutz and moshav farmers. But for once, let’s praise the cows. Holy Land cows’ output is astonishing.
According to Yaakov Bachar, general-manager of the Israel Cattle Breeders Association, in his introduction to the 2009 Dairy Industry annual report, “the Israeli cow has the highest national milk production and milk solids yields in the world.” Israel has over 100,000 cows on 972 farms. They produce 1.217 billion liters (or 1.286 billion quarts) of milk annually.
About two-thirds of the milk is processed by the giant produce company Tnuva, while much of the rest is processed by Strauss, a global food company, and Tara, a private milk-processing co-op. We are blessed with over 1,000 different dairy products, and buy NIS 5.1 billion ($1.5b.) worth of them annually. That puts Israelis right up with the world-leading Finns in per capita milk consumption, at close to 200 liters yearly.
Why are the cows so productive? For a start, they are carefully bred. Some 90 percent of Israeli cows are tracked in the Israeli Herdbook database, using advanced software.
Each cow has a bar-code insemination card with information on the cow and its pedigree.
Before the bull semen is selected, technicians check the cow’s bloodlines to avoid inbreeding and to optimize bloodlines and genes. I wonder why our cows have a unified national database, but humans don’t yet have a similar single health-record system.
Some of these holy cows are truly amazing.
Take Cow #6611 from the 339-cow herd at Kibbutz Carmiya. She produced 21,400 kg.
(47,080 lbs.) of milk in 2009, nearly double the national average, topping over 100,000 other cows! That’s 37 times her weight in milk, in one year! I think she deserves a name, not just a number. How about Super Cow? Or, take Cow #4616 from Kibbutz Maoz Hayim’s herd, whose record lifetime production is a staggering 189,147 kg. (416,123 lbs.) of milk. She belongs in the Cow Hall of Fame.
Call her Michaela Jordan.
Not only are our cows productive, they pass less gas. Cows produce methane – very bad for global warming. Israeli cows pass 20 percent less gas per kg. of milk than European cows, and are 60 percent less than flatulent New Zealand cows. Our Holsteins may be black and white, but hey, they’re also rather green.
Israeli cows so start out with some really terrific bulls. The aptly named bull “Scorer” (why do bulls get names, but cows don’t?) has contributed semen for a staggering 199,290 inseminations – tops in Israel. (Scorer apparently deeply regrets that he is never allowed to impregnate the cows the old-fashioned way and is seeking a lawyer.) Next, scientifically designed cattle food is used. Finally, “air conditioning.”
Cows hate heat and their milk production drops off in summer. Solution: Acooling system that sprays water and blows air on the cows and keeps them cool. Finally, dairy farmers know that classical music played for their cows boosts yields significantly. I hear the cows favor Scarlatti.
Not only are our cows productive, they are also resilient and very witty. One of the highest- yielding dairy herds in the country is at Kibbutz Saad, near Gaza, and subject to rocket attack. Recently, one of the cows there was overheard asking a friend: “Did you hear that NASA recently launched a bunch of Holsteins into’ low Earth orbit?” “No,” said the friend.
“They called it the herd shot ’round the world!”
The writer is senior research fellow, S. Neaman Institute, Technion.