We took responsibility and improved the way we care for our cows

We took responsibility and improved the way we care for our cows

In an interview with Eshkar Ginossar, Milk Receiving Manager at Yotvata Dairy, he told us about the sustainable cowshed program that has been implemented at Yotvata and in the cowsheds of partner dairy farmers in the past two years, the reason for the change and its advantages.

Hi Eshkar, tell me about yourself, what you did in the past and how you came to work at Yotvata?

I was born in Yotvata. I have been married to Mika since 1974 and have two sons, Shir and Or. I have been milking cows since the age of 15. I used to manage logistics at the Dairy and then went on to manage logistics at the regional manufacturing plants, and since 2017 I have been manager of milk receiving and manufacturer relations at the Dairy, and most important – I’m an amateur musician.

What does the job involve?

As milk receiving manager I’m responsible for the logistic transportation of the milk from the cowsheds to the Dairy, for timing its arrival, for its quality, the supply chain and troubleshooting when necessary, for work with planning, oversight and production, the laboratory and pasteurization departments. Managing manufacturer relations is a complex job – on the one hand I’m their contact person on behalf of the Dairy for any problems and requests, and on the other, I’m the one who has to visit them once a month and award a score for the quality of their work. But if you know how to maintain good, open relationships and build trust – it’s all possible.

What’s a sustainable cowshed?

This is a Strauss-Yotvata project, in which we take responsibility for the entire dairy product value chain, from the cow through to the product, with emphasis on the wellbeing of the cows and caring for the environment.

Whose idea was it?

Two and a half years ago, Michal Benishti, Manager of the Nutrition and Gastronomy Division at Strauss Israel, came up with this brilliant idea and presented it to Yotvata’s management. I was there at the meeting and really related to it.

What are the things you do to promote the cows’ wellbeing and protect the environment? Why did you choose those parameters in particular?

We joined DSF, the Dairy Sustainability Framework, which incorporates the leading and most influential dairies and plants in the world dairy industry. They focus on eleven key sustainability criteria. We put together a small team of dairy farmers, together with a vet and me. We consulted the finest professionals and groundbreakers in the industry and decided on eleven points of our own, which include cow welfare and protecting the environment: wastewater treatment, monitoring cooling, timely hoof trimming, elimination of freeze branding, ventilating and drying the bedding, imparting norms of awareness in dairy farming, an advanced hospital and treatment facility, gradual drying, selective administration of antibiotics, rearing calves together from the age of 7-14 days, and use of agricultural cuttings as a source for the production of cow feed.

Is all of this hard to implement? Where does the difficulty originate? The question refers to both the operational and economic aspects.

There is a difference between the cowsheds, so each cowshed and each dairy farmer has different parameters that are easy or complicated for him to implement. Some of these parameters have already been implemented at a number of our cowsheds.

Of course, we encountered difficulties with the dairy farmers when it came to making changes. I believe that the main reason for the difficulty lay in the lack of understanding why their daily routine needed to be changed and why we were interfering in their business. Some of the parameters required an investment in upgrading infrastructure; we gave financial help to the farms that asked for it, for example, among other things, for computerized systems to monitor cow cooling, and we partnered in negotiations with a company that supplies pruned foliage from date palms to cowsheds, and there are seminars and training that we financed, et cetera. It wasn’t a simple process and there was some frustration, but all the cowsheds could relate to the reasons why we embarked on this journey to improvement, and in spite of the differences, they are all on the way to achieving all the parameters, and today we have achieved around 90% implementation for all parameters in all cowsheds.

Why did you consider it important to establish a standard mark for sustainability?

The world is moving toward sustainability. We have to take care of our planet and try to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the cows as much as we can. I learn more every day, and every day brings new solutions to problems. It’s fascinating. We have to progress, upgrade and improve the norms in everything we do. We have to take responsibility and be better. We also have to upgrade and improve the way we treat the cows – those amazing animals that give us life. Give them what they need without being cynical, and enable them to live an excellent life for as long as they are our responsibility.

What are the advantages of choosing to be a sustainable cowshed? Does it lead to more milk, increase the milk yield?

Absolutely! The moment that the cow is content, that she is calm and her belly is full – the quality and quantity of the milk increases. The moment we consider the quality of the environment we enhance our efficiency, create less pollution, and we are the ones who reap the benefits.

How does the cows’ everyday behavior show that implementing the program really benefits them?

The cows are calm. This is reflected in the fact that the cowshed is quiet, for example; they’re more content. They are cooled when it’s hot, the bedding is comfortable and they ruminate in peace. No one threatens or disturbs their daily routine, food and water are always available, their hooves are healthy, and the vet’s visiting routine is also convenient. The cows are calm and their behavior in the cowshed is tranquil.

Where is more information on the program available (for people to tell others about the site and attract readers to visit)?

All information is available on the Strauss and Yotvata sustainability website, as well as clips presenting our cowsheds and the program – all with complete public transparency.