Israeli is a global leader in the dairy industry, and conversely, dairy has been a central part of Israel’s agriculture throughout the nation’s history. The success of Israeli dairy farming is due largely to the hard work and innovation of dairy farmers, who have achieved impressive milestones in improving milk production and optimizing cow and sheep breeds. In recent years, technological advancements have made improvements in farm management and herd health possible. Today, we’re celebrating the long history of dairy farming with a look back at the past 100 years of the Israeli dairy industry.
1910s: First experimental Israeli dairy farm
At the beginning of the 20th century, there were fewer than 1,000 heads of cattle in Israel, and these were all a small local breed of cows that had a relatively low yield. This began to change in 1911, when the Ben-Shemen experimental farm acquired a dairy herd and began producing yields of 1,000-5,000 kilograms of milk per year. In 1912, Degania Aleph, the very first Kibbutz, established its own dairy herd.
1920s: Efforts to cross-breed Israeli cattle
The 1917 Balfour Declaration jumpstarted Jewish colonization in Israel, and dairy farming was an essential part of new settlements. There were efforts by dairy farms to start cross-breeding cows in order to create more productive herds. In 1921, Hachaklait, a veterinary service for dairy farmers, imported 27 cows and bulls from Holland. Beginning in 1925, farmers began cross-breeding indigenous Israeli cattle with Dutch and Friesian bulls.
1930s: Focus on cattle health
As dairy farming grew in numbers and importance, farmers and organizations took precautions to protect cattle health. The British government led a plan to eradicate Brucellosis, and there was a major anti-mastitis campaign. New research into tick-borne diseases led to cattle dipping and immunization against Theileriasis. The 1930s also saw experimentation with artificial insemination.
1940s: Israeli dairy farming grows
In the 1940s, the growth of the Israeli dairy industry was still going strong. More milk and other dairy products were being produced. In 1946, 13 heads of cattle were imported from Canada, marking an important transition from Dutch breeds to a Holstein-Friesian strain. At the same time, the ICBA began instructing dairy farmers in how to use milking machines. All of these factors contributed to increased production. By the end of the decade, Israel had over 33,000 cows, and annual milk production surpassed 75 million liters.
1950s: Increased demand leads to regulation and organization
In the 1950s, a large wave in immigration led to massive growth in dairy farming. The new immigrants created an increase in demand for milk, and many of them began their own small-scale dairy farms. Throughout the 1950s, approximately 18,600 cattle were imported into Israel. Most of these were American Holstein-Freisian cattle, which significantly changed the makeup of the Israeli dairy herd. During this same period, there was an increase in dairy farming organizations and regulators, such as the Israel Dairy Board, which was founded in 1956.
1960s: The growth of exports
In the 1960s, Israel began to transition from a nation that needed to import cattle to one that could export it. This all began with the export of 60 heifers to Iran, but these would be just the first of many Israeli cattle exported around the world.
1970s: Advances in quality
Beginning in 1975, the FAO/Poland Trial compared strains of cattle from ten different countries. Israeli cattle were ranked first in improvement in milk and fat production, early maturity, body measurements, and rate of growth. This was just one piece of recognition for Israel’s impressive improvements in dairy farming.
1980s: Incorporation of electronic equipment
The 1980s saw a boom in the use of technology to improve productivity and efficiency. Electronic milk meters, which had been locally manufactured in Israel, became more popular amongst dairy farmers. Farmers also started using electronic identification as part of their farm management systems. These new computerized tools enabled more accurate, effective management.
1990s: Record-setting yields
By the 1990s, the milk production of Israeli cows was up to record-setting highs. In 1995, Israeli cows produced an average annual yield of 10,086 kilograms, and annual milk production surpassed 1 billion liters for the first time. In 2000, the average annual yield went up to 10,715 kilograms.
Looking to the future, we can expect continued improvements in production in farm management. Over the past 100 years, improvements came largely from innovative cross-breeding that resulted in healthy and productive cattle. Looking forward, growth seems likely to come from the use of technology. In Israel today, computerized systems help to record milk data and manage animal health, feeding regiments, proper breeding, and economic planning. As we move forward, these systems are likely to become more efficient and enable even better planning. The key element in all of these improvements, of course, is Israeli dairy farmers. Theses hard-working individuals are dedicated to a search for improvements. Last century, that enabled them to overcome an adverse climate and limited resources to develop one of the world’s best dairy industries. In the future, who knows what they’ll accomplish?