June 30, 2009, Updated December 13, 2013

Israeli company AfiMilk has developed a new meter that can monitor milk production in real time and online, giving dairy farmers critical information about possible contamination to milk supplies.

Normally, farmers would take a sample of milk from “each cow, once a month, and send that sample to the lab,” says Noa Yonish, the marcom rep of AfiMilk, based in Kibbutz Afikim near the Sea of Galilee.

Obviously such tests require a lot of manpower, and are not altogether very accurate. If there is a problem in the milk, it’s never isolated at the right time, allowing room for contamination to spread before a farmer is alerted.

Not knowing what cow is sick, and when, is another reason why farmers opt for mass injections of antibiotics, even if the entire herd isn’t ill.

The new AfiLab system, which is about the size of a baseball glove, can catch a number of problems as the milk passes from the teats to the cartons in real time.

It offers up data on individual cows, and can alert farmers of any potential health or feeding problems before they go untreated. Connected to computers, the mini testing lab not only protects a herd of dairy cows from disease outbreaks (and farmers from spilling vats of milk), it allows farmers to see if any early symptoms of illness appear in the herd, and can increase milk production efficiency, says the company.

A hit for the cheese making industry

Blood is another parameter that AfiMilk can check for, and it’s a major concern to certain populations. Under Jewish dietary law, for example, laws which are enforced in Israel and among Jewish communities in the United States, it’s prohibited to eat milk and meat products together.

Cow blood in milk is also a serious violation for consumers in Japan, who regard it as a big no-no, explains Udi Golan, the company’s product manager and US marketing manager.

Other parameters in the milk, explains Golan, such as protein levels, fat percentages and delaying factors essential to the cheese-making industry, can also be viewed online using the AfiLab.

AfiMilk, which has been in the automated milking business for 32 years and now owns about one-third of the US market, is testing its AfiLab invention at Florida University and Virginia Tech University. The company expects it to go on sale next year, says Golan.

For a herd of about 2,500 cows, the system will cost between $100,000 to $200,000, depending on the price that distributors in the United States set.

AfiMilk first entered the automated milking business in 1977 when it developed a fully automated milk-bottling technology, called — appropriately — the First Electronic Milk Meter.

Counting every step she takes

This meter, which could measure milk conductivity and check for basic diseases in the cow, was a world first and is now the technology on which large dairy companies such as Europe’s DeLaval and Westfalia, and Barmatic in the United States, base their own devices.

Today the company has thousands of customers in more than 50 countries.

Aside from the AfiLab system, AfiMilk has also developed another novel product for dairy farmers — the Pedometer, a movement monitoring system. When attached to the leg of a cow, the device can give a farmer specific information about both the cow and the herd.

Among the parameters it can pinpoint are whether the cow is feeling comfortable, if there’s stress or sickness, or even if the cow is in heat. “When she’s in heat, she moves more,” says Yonish.

Cows reset schedules in response to stress

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, dairy cows wearing the Pedometer were grazing next to a location where Israeli tanks had been firing back at Lebanon at certain regimented times of the day.

The stress levels of the animals were detected by the Pedometer throughout the day, says Yonish, and the cows responded to tank fire by altering their predictable napping patterns.

“Usually cows are very systematic,” she says. But the cows responded to the stress by lying down in different hours, and had reset their otherwise fixed schedules to the new stressor.

Such a tool would no doubt have important applications in better understanding animal welfare and optimal conditions to provide to dairy cows for the best milk production and quality.

AfiMilk was first founded by a member of Kibbutz Afikim and remains fully owned and operated by the community. The inventor who developed AfiMilk’s first meter created a number of inventions not all are related to the farm, says Yonish.

CEO Yossi Shemer is unable to reveal the company’s financials, but it currently employs 160 people, with manufacturing being done in Europe and China. The outsourced equipment is assembled and tested in the Israeli kibbutz, while its latest product, the AfiLab, has about 2,000 units installed at milking points in about 70 farms.


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Jason Harris

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