Israeli cows lead the world in milk production

Herd manager Udi Stainbaum works at a dairy farm in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, southern Israel. Israeli dairy farmers ...

Herd manager Udi Stainbaum works at a dairy farm in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, southern Israel. Israeli dairy farmers provide milk in a country that is two-thirds desert, with little grazing land, using high tech methods and a lot of imported feed.

Israeli cows are the most productive in the world, says Afimilk professional services manager Yoni Levine.

The average Israeli cow produces about 1100 kilograms of milksolids a year compared to the New Zealand average of 373kg/MS.

At the Fieldays in Hamilton, Levine said the difference in production between the two was understandable because Israeli cows were fed on silage and grains, whereas in New Zealand they ate mostly pasture.

Afimilk professional services manager Yoni Levine and a Vietnamese farm worker.

Afimilk professional services manager Yoni Levine and a Vietnamese farm worker.

However technological innovations had also boosted performance. Some Kiwi farmers had managed to double their production using the Afimilk system to improve their livestock genetics, animal health and milk monitoring system.

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Levine said the Israeli dairy industry was a product of the country's political and geographical situation. Decades ago it saw the need to become self-sufficient and to create kosher products. It does not import any dairy products except cheese.

He said the genesis of the dairy industry was the collective communal kibbutz system. He himself was born and grew up on one.

"In the 1970s the parents had to work, you lived in a children's house and you had someone in charge who educated you, although you'd be with your parents at night," Levine said.

In the early days of the kibbutz, they operated under a socialist system whereby every worker was paid the same amount, but that has largely changed so people are paid to reflect the importance of what they do.

Most farms milk their herds three times a day, the average herd size is 250-300 cows, with some of the largest as big as 1000. There are also a number of small family farms with on average 50-60 cows.

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Herds are fed on a total mixed ration (TMR) method, with a mix of silage, grass and concentrate. The number of ingredients are high, and include cereal grain, mainly barley and corn,  corn gluten, canola meal, cotton meal, sunflower meal, peanut meal, feather meal and fish meal. About half the ingredients are imported.

Milk production falls off in summer as the heat takes its toll, but the Israelis are world leaders at cooling cows with energy efficient fans and irrigated water.

The Government controls the industry tightly using a quota-based system, so that farmers are told how much milk they can produce during the year. In order to encourage summer milking, they give farmers a higher price at that time of the year.

Afimilk was founded in 1977, having started life as a kibbutz. The kibbutz is still the majority (70 per cent) owner, with the remainder owned by an investment company.

It makes computerised systems for dairy farms and herd management and introduced the world's first electronic milk meter 25 years ago.

Manager Clint Brereton said Afimilk had 50 farms signed up in New Zealand. Some farms adopted the total system, while others used discrete modules.

The company was recently involved in setting up a dairy project in Vietnam, consisting of seven farms and 6000 cows.

Levine said Afimilk had a lot to learn from New Zealand about pasture. He travels the world, spending half his time showing farmers how to use software to improve efficiency.

 - Stuff

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