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How did the Israeli Holstein Cow become a world leader in Milk yields?

Ralph Ginsberg


The Israeli Dairy Farm has come to be known as a source of knowledge and pride as the dairy industry is one of the leading sectors in Israel’s agriculture. It supplies about 80% of the Israeli domestic demand for milk and dairy products, while the rest is supplied by imports.
The annual production is approximately 1,455 million liters of cow milk, and the annual value of products being processed is about US$ 2.6 billion. The Israeli supermarket shelves are bursting with a which can be compared with the state-of-the-art dairy industries worldwide.
National per-capita consumption stands on 176 kg in fluid milk equivalent basis, and is on rising for the last few years. As in other parts of the world, the Israeli consumer is becoming more price conscious, and the industry is challenged with the need to provide the same high quality products with lower price levels. Milk is produced by 834 dairy farms, countrywide.

The national dairy herd comprises of about 125,000 milking cows of the IsraeliHolstein breed. The breed has been developed by the Israeli Genetic Improvement system. The fact that the common Israeli milking cow has been selected from local breeding stock throughout generations brings it to be well adapted to the harsh Israeli unique environment: long and hot summers and endemic diseases. All cows are bred by Artificial Insemination.
How did the Israeli cow become a world leader in milk and milk solids production?In 2014, the Israeli cow produced an average of 12,083 kg of milk (production/cow/year), of which 3.27% is protein and 3.64% is fat. The reasons given are many, but the real answer lies in the combination of the unique method used in Israel to manage the dairy herd.
General Cow breeding conditions in Israel are relatively difficult. The country is small and has limited areas of cultivated and irrigated land, besides which it suffers from water limitations. Precipitation occurs only in winter in the North of the country, and very seldom if ever in the South.
The climate and the small size of the country are the reasons that cows cannot be left out to natural pasture, and therefore are fed with locally grown irrigated forage supplemented by imported grain.
These local conditions also necessitate that animal reproduction be in the forefront of progress.

Much of Israel’s agriculture is based on cooperative settlements, which were developed in the early 20th century.
The Kibbutz is a large collective production unit. Kibbutz members jointly own the means of production and share social and economic activities.
Another type of settlement is the Moshav, which is based on individual farms yet organized as a cooperative society. The residents in both types of settlements are provided with a package of municipal services. The Kibbutz and the Moshav currently account for 83% of the country’s agricultural produce.
All the Kibbutz dairy herds participate in the DHI (Dairy herd Information) system and represent 64% of the cows with recorded production. Their average milk yield in 2014 was 12,376 kg/cow/year with an average production of 3.27 %protein and 3.63% fat. Only approximately 64% of the Moshav dairy herds participate in the DHI system and represent 36% of the cows with recorded production. Their average milk yield in 2014 was 11,554 kg/cow/year with an average production of 3.26% protein and 3.71% fat.


Production and Quotas:

Dairy farming in Israel is subject to production quotas, set by the Israel Dairy Board (Production and Marketing). The  nnual volume is divided into monthly quotas. According to law, no dairy farm may produce and or market  unprocessed milk.
This process helps to balance supply and  demand in the sector while allowing for continued growth and reasonable profitability. The base price for the milk to the producer is agreed upon between government, farmers and dairy industries. The price reflects the average cost of production plus an agreed return for the farmers’ labor and invested capital. Every three month, a target price is calculated based on the changing inputs / outputs of the milk production on the national level.


Heat Stress:

Heat stress influences production and fertility of high producing dairy cows. In Israel, milk production declines in summer to almost  90% of winter level. Conception rate in summer reaches levels of 20%, compared to more than 40% in winter months. The summer decline in production and fertility creates a significant seasonality in milk supply to the market and an additional cost to the consumers, caused by the need for drying milk in winter and using it in summer. Cooling cows in summer almost eliminates seasonality in milk production and fertility



In Israel there is only one dairy breed, the Israeli Holstein, which was developed from the early thirties on by out crossing local & Damascus cows with Friesian bulls and later with Holsteins. Today, the last trace of the Damascus cow has disappeared and after 60 years of breeding in a hot climate, the Israeli Holstein cows have adapted to the hot climate. In Israel, for more than four decades now, 100 % of the dairy population, cows and heifers, have been bred exclusively by artificial insemination, carried out mainly by the “Sion” Co-operative Artificial Insemination company. “Sion” currently houses 250 bulls located in three different sites. Approximately 50 young bulls are tested every year. Semen from approximately 25 proven bulls is vailable to the Israeli dairy farmers for general service. Most are proven bulls with evaluations based on daughter production records, and the rest are high pedigree index young bulls. Genetic evaluations are performed biannually.
Breeding takes into account the milk-yield and the improvement of the protein and fat composition. This data undergoes statistical analysis which results in the selection of desirable traits. Thesetraits are then cross-bred to produce superior offspring.



Most of the herd`s nutrition is based on a total mixed feed mix ration (T.M.R.). The feed for smaller herds is generally prepared in a central regional station serving all the herds in the area, rather than prepared separately by each herd-owner. Israel`s dairy herds utilize computerized feeding systems to determine the correct balance for a milk-yielding or dry cow during the gestation period, or to develop a suitable diet for young calves. The feed ration is calculated for optimal nutrition and economic efficiency.



Israel`s dairy industry employs advanced milking technologies developed by two Israeli companies – Afimilk and SCR Engineering. (SCR’s meters are marketed outside of Israel by De Laval and other companies under their trade names). Over the years, low-line systems with milk meters replaced recorder jars in new installations. A few automated swing-over parlors can be found in some of the smaller farms. The first milking robot was installed in Israel in 1999. Today all cows in Israel are milked in milking parlors or by robotic milking. More than 75% of the cows are milked with electronic milk meters, or in 54 milking robots on 31 farms. As more than 90% of cows are on DHI, in order to ascertain the proper functioning of the meters, irrespective of their make, the central laboratory for milk recording checks meters for accuracy once yearly.



The Israeli breeding program is monitored by the Israeli Breeding and Herdbook Committee, which includes representatives of the Sion A.I. Company, the Israeli Cattle Breeders Association, and scientists of the Department of Ruminant Science of the Institute of Animal Sciences of the Agricultural Research Organization. The Israel Herd Book is a computerized data bank allowing its users to trace genealogy, milk yield and quality of each cow, as well its production history, fertility, state of health, and any other useful data for maintaining / developing the standards of the dairy industry. Any change in milk quality is thus immediately arises attention and treated quickly and efficiently, by the farmer as well as the veterinarian’s.

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