On a recent hot afternoon, a group of farmers from around the world wandered through the cow barns at Kibbutz Afikim, an agricultural cooperative founded by Jewish immigrants from Russia in 1924. It was late June in the Jordan Valley; the temperature spiked at 90 degrees. But the delegation of farmers had just asked to leave an air-conditioned conference room and use their limited time to see the cow barns. Despite the high temperatures, the nearly 900 cows were calm, many lying in the mud that covers the floor of their barns, which are partly open to the outside and cooled by large fans.
These barns at Afikim, and Israeli milk cows in general, are a growing attraction for visitors as Israel’s dairy industry has emerged as one of the most efficient and productive in the world. Despite limited rainfall and high summer temperatures, Israel has the highest national average of milk production per cow. And amid the fast-growing global demand for dairy products, especially in the developing world, there is increasing interest in how Israel gets so much milk out of each cow and the technology it uses to do so.
“Happy cows give a lot of milk. People from around the world are coming here, and they see that it’s terribly hot, but that the cows are happy,” said Ofier Langer, a former executive at several Israeli high-tech companies who established the Israeli Dairy School six years ago. The school organizes seminars and tours of farms and other facilities. “We have a lot of ways to teach the world’s farmers how to make their cows happy,” he says.
According to the Israeli Dairy Board, dairy and agricultural tours are also organized by the government, corporations, and other organizations. Many of the sites they visit—including dairy barns, milking technology companies, and cattle feed production centers—are located on or were founded by kibbutzim. Because of its connection to the kibbutz movement, an in-depth look at the dairy sector offers these visitors a window into the history and culture of Israel and the changes it has seen over the years. Those who come to see the dairy sector also come away with a deeper understanding of the country.
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