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Meet one of world’s top milk producers

Friday January 30 2015

Workers set milk machines at Afimilk Farm in Herzliya City, Israel’s Dairy capital.

Workers set milk machines at Afimilk Farm in Herzliya City, Israel’s Dairy capital. PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

FRANCIS MUREITHI
By FRANCIS MUREITHI
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Tel Aviv and Herzliya are separated by 15km of a six-lane highway with interchanges and overpasses that virtually eliminate any traffic gridlock.

As we drive past imposing high-rise new residential apartments built on the scenic beaches of the Mediterranean Sea, one can’t help marvelling at the beauty of this land.

We are in Herzliya to meet Daniel Hojman of Afimilk, a company specialising in dairy management in the Jordan Valley popularly known as Kibbutz Afikim and famed as one of the best-run dairy farms in the world.

It is farms such as that of Hojman’s that make you understand why Israel is considered one of the world’s dairy powerhouses.

ere superb dairy farming technology and advancement ensure the cow’s welfare is given top priority.

This has made the Jewish state, whose land is 60 per cent desert, to remain a star with an average Israeli cow producing 12,000 litres of milk a year.

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By comparison, the US produces 9,000 litres a year according to statistics from International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR).

Afimilk won the dairy herd management innovation award at the World Dairy Exhibition in Madison, Wisconsin in US last October.

And during the visit we learnt why. After Hojman opens the imposing barn, we are met by 1,100 Holstein cows, 950 of which are currently lactating.

The 160-metre long by 60-metre wide barn is specially made for the hot Middle East climatic conditions and is cleaned after every four hours to remove corrosive mixture of urine and dung.

“We get between 40 and 42kg of milk per cow. They are milked at least three times a day,” he proudly informs us.

The farm employs a workforce of 18 permanent staff who include the overall farm manager, two feeding managers, health and fertility manager and nursery manager while the rest are milkers.

The farm has two bulk tanks of 30,000 litres each where the milk is stored.

“The good thing with Israel dairy technology is that it keeps on improving and I bet by April when the 19th International Agricultural Exhibition and Conference will be held in Tel Aviv, the average milk production will have shot to 45 litres per cow,” Hojman informs us.

This year’s theme is “Face global food production shortages with innovations in post-harvest quality and safety practices”.

The exhibition that is hosted after every two years will take place in Tel Aviv from April 28 to 30 and will bring together farmers from around the world.

RIGHTS ARE RESPECTED

So, how has Afimilk managed to be the world top producer of milk, clinching the award at the US exhibition since 2003?

“Unlike other dairy farms in the world, here the rights of a cow are respected just like the way we respect human rights and this has been the secret of success of the Israeli dairy industry,” says the 64-year-old professional farmer.

“The cow’s freedom from thirst, hunger or poor nutrition, discomfort, pain, diseases, injuries and freedom to express normal pattern of behaviour is respected.”

Momentarily, our interview is cut short as there is commotion at the milking parlour as some of the cows make attempts to free themselves from the milking machine.

We are requested to remain silent as Hojman and the team calm the agitated cows under a relaxation shed for about 15 minutes.

“If we continue milking them under a stressed state, we won’t meet our target in the next session,” he explains after resuming the interview.

Twenty agricultural journalists from Russia, China, South Africa, Mexico, Turkey, Thailand, Brazil, Italy and Kenya had descended on this 13-ha farm by the Mediterranean Sea to learn how Israel manages to remain at the top of farming despite its desert conditions.

One of the secrets, we learn, is the adherence to the total mixed ration. A lactating cow’s total mixed ration contains 33 per cent to 35 per cent of forages, mainly wheat silage.

The rest of the concentrates is (grain and meals and corn). Each cow eats an equal ration of 18kg.

The media tour took place between January 17 and 21, and was organised by the Israeli government.

The farm is highly computerised with a cooling system where a dripping shower from the roof top of the barn sprinkles on the cows during summer.

A tag containing an “activity metre” is used to identify the cow and transmit the information to the computer regarding the animal’s general activity, detecting the sick ones as well as those in oestrus.

Other recently developed tags have the ability to detect daily rumination duration and lying duration, supplying information about a cow’s nutritional and welfare status.

SUBJECTED TO TESTING

The high hygiene standards ensure milk is subjected to laboratory and quality testing and it is mandatory for the staff to wear protective gear.
Inside the farm, there are hospital pens where cows which are detected to be unwell are isolated and treated.

The farm sells a litre of milk to the processors at $0.54 (Sh50), and with 950 lactating cows producing an average of 42 litres (42kg) of milk per cow, the farmers rake in an equivalent of Sh2 million a day.

Part of the money is shared amongst the 300 members of the Kibbutz who own means of production while the rest is invested in machinery and new equipment.

By farming under groups, rather than independently, Israeli farmers are able to exploit modern technology and enjoy the economies of scale.

Members of the Kibbutz meet three times a year to review the business and approve budgets.

The annual percentage of fat and protein is 3.66 per cent and 3.24 per cent respectively. The annual fat and protein yield per cow in Israel is the highest in the world (over 765kg).

The milking efficiency is also improved by the computerised system and this, according to Hojman, leads to better udder health, quality milk and less strain from over milking and this ultimately reduces the stress on the cows.

“Reducing a cow’s stress is critical because the condition drops the ability to fight diseases, damages body functions, depresses milk production and can interfere with reproduction.”

The animals are weighed before and after milking and this helps in determining the correct food rations and whether the animals are underfeeding or overfeeding.

“Due to this neat and close monitoring of our animals, it is possible to sell some of them and cull after between seven and eight lactations,” says Hojman.