Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Country Boys and Girls Gettin' Down on the Farm

After the holiday and the Sabbath, Atara and Daniel returned to the States – apparently Deloitte DC doesn’t have an office closed half day of vacation policy over Sukkot, where you can either work 4 hours from home each day or take half days of vacation for the week and have a week off for, in my case, 1.5 days of vacation.
The rest of us headed to the north of Israel to enjoy the Golan Heights. We met up with our cousins at Kfar Blum, a kibutz that operates a hotel. The kibutz is located on the Jordan River and is in a very scenic area with fields covering the rolling hills, flat valleys and elevated plateaus of the Golan Heights.
When we arrived on Sunday afternoon, it was too late for a hike or excursion, so I went for a run and then hit the pool. Our cousins had planned a unique night activity. After a quick shower, we were off to the dairy farm.

That’s right. The dairy farm. We went to the Bet Hillel dairy farm to learn about milking cows and how the farm operates. It was a very cool experience. We learned a lot about cows and the milking process – so much so that we were issued diplomas certifying that we roughed the stench (it was not pleasant to say the least) and learned “all there is to know” about milking cows.

Nowadays, dairy farms are highly automated. The cows are milked by machine and each one has a maximum security parole style anklet on that tells the milking system which cow is being milked and how much milk it generates. Is it odd that I think I’d have fun playing with the Excel spreadsheet that charts all the cow’s milk output. I could pivot that bad boy and perform all kind of milking analytics… I am still on the commute home, but clearly my heart is still in the office.
The farm operates 24-7 with three milkings a day per cow. Our tour guide told us that Israel holds a record (not sure who monitors this claim but he said Guinness could attest to the fact) that Israeli cows generate more milk than any other cows in the world – maybe because they are milked more often. Life on the farm is hard for the cows – they are constantly being impregnated so that they can generate milk. When cows give birth to calves, a process that I was surprised to find out takes 9 months, they initially put out yellowish milk that is  not fit for human consumption. After a little while, it switches to straight up milk. That is when they are put back in the line-up. When the cow stops generating milk again, it is impregnated again through artificial insemination. The farm had a section for pregnant cows – they were huge, calves – really cute, and milking cows – most of them. When a cow stops generating milk after being pregnant, or if they are not producing enough milk, they go to “al ha-esh” literally – on the fire, the Israeli term for barbeque.
When we went in the milking area, we were shown how cows were milked “back in the day” by hand. After milking a cow just a little bit – and getting kicked when I demonstrated poor form, I decided that back in the day, I would probably not have felt the juice or in this case milk was worth the squeeze and would not have drank a lot of shoko – chocolate milk.

Me, Mom, Cousin Rachel and Brother-In-Law Itay Milking Cows
After milking the cows, we went to feed the calves with bottles. The calves were really cute – they were about the size of really large dogs and were very playful. When you’d go to pet them, they’d try to suck on your hand. When you stuck your thumb in their mouth, they licked on it. It was at this point that I felt the taste buds scratching on my finger and was reminded why I don’t eat tongue. We fed the calves with bottles and watched them kiss and play with each other.

After the experience, I still drink milk and love the great dairy products Israel produces. I do however have a greater appreciation for the work that goes into getting milk and an even great appreciation for the work that used to go into getting milk. The outing was off the beaten path and a really cool time. The next time you find yourself in Bet Hillel in the Golan Heights at 7:30 at night, I recommend you stop by. There is also not much else to do there at night.


  1. "that Israeli cows generate more milk than any other cows in the world"...

    is this because of increased use of growth hormones or natural production is higher? interesting...

  2. my grandfather was a dairy farmer back in green bay. i can squeeze a cow's teat with the best of them...