Norwegian Red helps boost Israel’s dairy production
Norwegian Red cattle are popular on dairy farms in Israel helping boost not only the milk yield but also the quality as well.
By Chris McCullough
Israel is one of the world's top dairy producers having climbed the ranks since the 1950s with the aid of effective breeding policies and technology.
Farming in Jezreel Valley
Dairy farmer Jonathan Amir runs a 70 cow milking herd at HaYogev in northern Israel, which falls under the jurisdiction of Jezreel Valley.
His herd is split into one third Holstein Friesian cows and the majority consisting of Norwegian Red cows which he has great admiration of. The combined herd average of Jonathan's herd is a respectable 11,000 litres per cow per year at 4% butterfat, 3.6% protein and a Somatic Cell Count of 200,000.
"Our cows are all kept in the open air, albeit under a shade," said Jonathan. "We do not have any cubicles but have to keep the animals cool as temperatures do reach 38 to 40 degrees Centigrade. Our farm is only 100 metres above sea level therefore we do have a high humidity as well as the heat."
"Heat stress can have terrible consequences on the cows so at night our fans run above 20C to keep them cooler. We did have snow once here in 1991 for two days," he added.
Jonathan also sprays his cows five times per day with a fine mist to try and keep their body temperatures down especially in the peak hot times of the day."
Well suited to the harsh climate conditions
All Jonathan's milk goes to the Strauss Group dairy processor which pays him 1.99 Israeli New Shekels per litre which is around 47 euro cents per litre.
Jonathan said his Norwegian Red cows are well suited to the region and perform well despite the harsh climatic conditions.
"They are good milkers," he said. "Plus their milk is of good quality. Our herd is two thirds Norwegian Red cows which really are acclimatised well here in Israel.
"We milk the cows three times a day in a six point swing over milking parlour. All of our cows are fed in their enclosure. There is no outdoor grazing in Israel like in Ireland or New Zealand. We feed a Total Mixed Ration and use silage, wheat, corn, winter crops and sunflower seeds. Feed costs accounts for 60 per cent of our cost of production," added Jonathan.
Robust, healthy calves
Calves born to the Norwegian Red cows are healthy, alert and are indeed valuable assets commanding high prices even for the bull calves.
"Bull calves sell for around 1,500 Shekels (€355) at two months of age," said Jonathan. "If sold at one week old they would fetch 650 Shekels (€150) each.
"It is important for us to have healthy strong calves, both female and males, and the Norwegian Red breed provides that, even when crossed with the Holstein," he said.
Jonathan's friend and fellow dairy farmer, Israel Bloch, is the chairman of the Israel Cattle Breeders Association, and milks 130 Holstein cows.
He buys in bull calves to fatten and sells them at 12 to 14 months of age at 400 to 500 kilograms.
"I need healthy calves that grow fast," said Israel. "At the optimum fattening weights I receive 12 to 17 Shekels (€2.84 to €4.02) per kilogram liveweight for them. I would buy around 120 bull calves per year," he said.
While Israel as a country is fast on the uptake of new technology for farms, the demand for robots is dwindling.
"I use three DeLaval robots on my farm," said Israel. "All of them are over ten years old."
Robots are not working so well in Israel due to poor flexibility and poor service coverage from dealers, say the farmers.
Both Jonathan and Israel are concerned for the future of dairying in Israel as the government has decided to open its doors to dairy imports from January 1, 2019.
Dairy farms in Israel
Israel has around 135,000 dairy cows producing 1.56 billion litres of milk per year on a quota system. There are less than 800 dairy farms in the country which have, until now, been able to supply the home market with fresh milk, cottage cheeses and yoghurts.
Those farms comprise of 625 Moshav farms which are private family owned, and 162 Kibbutz, which are cooperative dairy farms.
Jonathan said: "Our government wants to make us more competitive by opening the doors to imports. I don't think they want to harm us but we are concerned about a deluge of cheap imports hurting our own prices.
"We do not export very much so these imports could see a drop in our prices," he said.
Like everywhere else in the world, Israel has a problem obtaining labour on dairy farms and has to look further afield to Thailand to find workers.
Farmers have to sign five year contracts with their Thai employees and pay a minimum of 2,500 Shekels (€590) per month to them. The Thai employees can only work for that five year period and must return home following their contract.
However, the major issue for the Israeli farmers is that they must continue to pay the workers a pension even when they are not working and have returned home.