The Israeli cow reigns supreme. She has the largest milk yield in the world, on average 10,500 liters a year, compared to 9,500 liters per cow in the United States and some 7,500 liters per cow in Europe.
The quantities of fat (357 kilograms per cow annually) and protein (326 per cow annually) are among the highest in the world.
"Until a few years ago the Israeli cow was called `the watery cow,' because its milk was low in fat and protein, but that is no longer the case," says Dr. Israel Flamenbaum, manager of the animals section and cattle department in the Agriculture Ministry.
Genetic improvement and a continuous cycle of insemination and calving keeps the Israeli cow yielding large quantities of milk. "Our starting conditions were not good," he says. "The optimal weather for cattle growing is temperate. New Zealand, for example, is the best place in the world to raise cows - light rain falls all year round, growing tasty, green grass. In Israel it does not rain all year and the heat harms milk production."
Veterinarians say that the digestion process in the cow's stomach creates considerable heat. This factor, the climate's heat and the European origin of Israel's cows - all works to reduce the cow's appetite and milk yield.
Israel beat the heat with cooling systems that wet and fan the cow, reducing its body heat, and developed a special menu for the cows.
"The New Zealand cow goes to pasture and eats the grass. Then it is fed a mixture of seeds and protein concentrates," says Flamenbaum. Since Israel lacks those open spaces, cattle farmers feed cows several times a day with a kind of salad or porridge of all the foods the should eat. The result is better nutrition.
"The cow's eating preferances are boring. It prefers to get the same food regularly all year," he says. The cost of milk production in Israel is higher than in Australia, New Zealand or Argentina, but is similar to the cost in Europe and the U.S.
But how is the cow "persuaded" to give its milk to begin with? "A cow is a mammal and produces milk after calving," says Flamenbaum. "The milk yield is gradually reduced after calving, so the cow must be inseminated artificially to make it calve again and produce more milk. Between calving and insemination, the cow is given 100 days of rest. Every such cycle lasts about 13 months."
Israel is one of the few states in the world in which almost every one of its 110,000 milk cows was born as a result of artificial insemination.
In the race to produce more milk, cattle breeders are constantly genetically improving their herds.
Meir Braun, the secretary of the Cattle Breeders Association, says the sperm of bulls shown to be the best studs is used on the cows that yield the most milk and have the most impressive body proportions.
Since in Israel the sperm of local bulls is used, a local breed of cows has emerged, dubbed "Israeli-Holstein."
Every year about one-third of the cows are replaced with younger ones, which are usually genetically improved and yield more milk than their mothers.
But this was not enough for Israel's cattle farmers. Israel was one of the first countries in the world to put a computer into every dairy. All the dairies are linked to a communication network enabling swift exchange of information.
"Today, everything that happens in a dairy is computerized and registered. Every cow is monitored. How much she ate, how much milk she gave, her body build etc. is all fed into the cattle farmers' system, dubbed the Herd Book," says Flamenbaum.
The "League" chart shows which herd produced the most milk and which cow holds the record. For example, the herd with the highest milk yield belongs to Kibbutz Alumim in the western Negev, which produced an average 12,912 liters per cow for 2003. This herd also holds the record for fat content in milk - 456 kg. per cow per year. Kibbutz Nirim comes second with 12,849 liters. The cow Shikufit of moshav Givat Yoav in Sofer Moshe's farm yielded last year 19,500 liters - almost twice the average Israeli cow's milk yield. However, she is still far behind the world record of Lucy of North Carolina, a cow that yielded more than 33,000 liters of milk in 1998.
Altogether Israeli cows produce 1.15 billion liters of milk annually. More than 360 million liters are intended for drinking while the rest is used for dairy and other products, such as chocolate.
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