Milk is a wonderful product made by an animal capable of a very special trick. The cow converts vegetable protein (grass) into animal protein (milk). And in this way, humans, who cannot perform this magic trick, can easily fulfill their protein needs, courtesy of farmer and cow.
The cow does not perform this magic trick – as is generally believed – for the farmer; no, she does it for her calf. In modern livestock farming, the calf has been replaced by a milking machine. Twice a day, and in cases where farmers have a milking robot, three or four times a day, the cow allows herself to be laid down to be milked mechanically. Many people believe the farmer’s main concern is the milk, but this is not the case. To him, milk is white water that is sold per kilogram. The price is determined by the levels of fat and protein per kilogram of milk. The higher these levels, the higher the price per kilogram. Furthermore, protein yields almost 40% higher prices than fat does. In dairy farming, it is all about the percentages of protein per kilogram of milk.
In the normal way, a cow eats grass in the Summer and hay in the Winter, because there is no grass in the Winter. Without grass there is no milk as a cow more or less dries up on a diet of hay. The cow has no objections to this, but the farmer certainly does. If it is any way possible, a dairy farmer will want to be able to milk his cows three hundred and sixty five days a year.
To keep the cow going in the Winter, so-called “silage” was invented in the Fifties. A portion of the Summer grass was mown, dried and pressed into bales of hay for the Winter. Grass is also mown for silage, but before it has been dried by the sun to form hay it is raked up to into a large mound. The mound of fresh grass is covered with plastic to keep it airtight. In this way most of the nutrients are retained, in contrast to hay where all nutrients disappear. Silage cannot compete with fresh grass, but in combination with concentrates it is still nutritious enough to stimulate milk production sufficiently.
Factories processing the milk from the farms want a constant supply of raw materials the whole year through. In spite of the invention of silage, however, milk production decreases during the Autumn and the Winter. In order to stimulate farmers to produce milk specifically in that period, the dairy plant pays a higher price for Winter milk than for Summer milk. This prompted the leaders in the sector to go looking for another food richer in protein than silage. They soon found it in offal from the potato industry (potato fibres) and the brewing industry (brewer’s grain). Later they started adding sewage sludge, industrial offal and parts of slaughter offal to the fodder.
It remains a biological miracle how the cow manages to produce milk from this sour, reeking muck that is added to silage. There were no complaints from the consumer. Not only were the supermarket shelves fully stocked the whole year round with relatively cheap dairy products, beer also remained affordable. If brewers and potato growers would have to pay the full price for processing of their refuse, beer would become a drink for the rich and chips with ketchup and mayonnaise a snack for the well-to-do.
Nothing seems too crazy in the quest for milk, read: protein. Converting vegetable protein into animal protein costs the cow time and energy, which she also needs for protein production. So food concentrates arrived on the market in which bone meal from sheep and slaughter offal of other animals was processed and the cows seem to like it - providing it was concealed in vegetable fodder. These food concentrates were relatively inexpensive, because they consisted of offal. And of course they were productive because they contained animal protein already which could pass directly from the cow’s stomach to the udder without rumination.
But the cow’s clever trick was not clever enough, which is why they were fed animal offal which not only led to increase in protein, but also made carnivores of the vegetarians.
Is it any wonder the cows went mad? Still, the name given to this phenomenon – mad cow disease – is misleading. The real madness of the mad cow disease is not to be found among the sick sheep or the sick cows. This lies in the minds of the producers who have made a fleet of machinery out of their livestock herd. This occurred unhindered by the consumer, who is only interested in the price of the available product.
In order to keep prices down, productivity had to go up. Formerly, each farmer had his own bull to inseminate his cows. All these different bulls allowed genetic variety and genetic protection of the sort to be preserved. The bulls are a thing of the past, because now the farmer uses artificial insemination. Entire Dutch livestock herds have but a few fathers, to exaggerate slightly: the now deceased bull Sunny Boy and his brothers. They are the most important suppliers of the sperm banks which the farmers use to inseminate their cows.
On the maternal side a similar process of genetic constriction is taking place. The most productive cows are not only milked. Their ovaries are shaken empty on a monthly basis and the contents are inseminated on a saucer with the sperm of Sunny Boy and his mates. The resulting embryo is then inserted in the womb of a less productive cow and now it’s the farmer’s turn to show his clever trick: making less-productive cows produce highly productive offspring! These agro- technological feats cater for a manipulated inbreeding, which along with high productivity can lead to extreme vulnerability of the breed.
Dutch dairy farmers consider themselves to be the best farmers in the world and the statistics seem to prove them right. There is, after all, no other country in the world where so much milk is produced on so few square meters grass per cow. And this is exactly the problem. The Dutch cow’s diet consists mainly of secondhand grass, supplemented by the strangest form of offal. All that is not explicitly prohibited is processed in fodder. And in this way, Dutch milk is, to a large extent, a product based on offal.
All sorts of things are made from it: fresh milk, for example. Fresh? When the milking machine has done its work, the milk is stored in a tank in the dairy. Every second day, a large tanker comes from the dairy plant to collect the milk. At least half of the milk is at that stage almost two days old before it leaves the farm. At the dairy plant, the milk is transferred to huge storage tanks where it stays for at least one further day. Any sort of factory, and a dairy plant is no exception here, works with supplies of raw materials. The so-called day-fresh milk is then three days old, but has not yet been put into a carton. In the most favourable case, that will happen the following day, after which the cartons will finally be transferred by a transport centre - on day five following milking - to the supermarket shelves.
There are similar misconceptions about cheese. Dutch dairy farmers consider that product as an unequalled work of art. But cheese, and certainly Dutch cheese, which comes on the market with names such as Gouda and Edam, is not much more than a simple way of keeping milk. The work of art is no longer exclusive to The Netherlands; it is produced all over the world. The largest cheese factory in the world is not in The Netherlands, but in Lichfield New Zealand. Cheeses of all shapes and sizes roll off the conveyor belts there at the speed of light. Also Gouda and Edam cheeses.
Dutch cheese connoisseurs turn up their noses at the New Zealand product. They regard it as chewing gum and it tastes funny. That “funny taste” is grass!
New Zealand, Australian, Irish, French, Spanish and increasingly more American cows eat almost exclusively grass. Not the one-sided football field variety which is cut for the cows in The Netherlands, but real grass and different varieties of it. Here and there a buttercup, dandelion or other flower and even some weeds can be found in it. But first and foremost: it is fresh.
That natural basic component gives many foreign Gouda and Edam cheeses the taste which has disappeared from the Dutch variety throughout the years.
We don’t like the taste of the foreign cheese because it has a distinctive taste.