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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Aavin ~ Swiss cows ... and cows climbing Alps

Those now in middle ages [ read closer or above 50s], would remember the olden days scramble for milk in the morning. In the mid 1970s was the paradigm shift in the city of Chennai to pasteurized milk.  Not sure whether Aavin was as modernized as it is now – the process (not of manufacture) of getting it home was arduous. Each street had a milk booth or two.  Aavin milk van would come early in the morning, the attendant at the booth would unload and nap for a few more minutes. Around 0500 am, there would a big queue lined before each booth. Each had to carry either the empty bottle as replacement for the milk in bottle or carry a utensil, into which the milk from the bottle would be poured.  Specially made milk crate would contain 20 bottles and crates would often be handled roughly resulting in breakages- domestic consumers carried specially made iron carriers which would house3 / 4/ more bottles – contraptions making lives easier.  .. .. and on those days, when the van broke down or was late, people loitered angrily – frustration of not having the morning coffee yet !!   ~  and do you know the price of 1 ltr of Aavin milk today ??

Milk is a popular dietary staple – we here take buffalo milk and sometimes that of cow.   Sources of milk and milk products include cows, sheep, camels, goats, and others. Alternative sources that do not involve animals include soy, coconut, almond, flax, rice, and hemp.  Of late, there is much talk of  “A-2 milk” !!   -  A2 milk is cow's milk that mostly lacks a form of β-casein proteins called A1 and instead has mostly the A2 form.  Its protagonists now state that  milk containing A1 proteins is harmful.  On search, it is read that thousands of years ago all milk had just the A2 protein. Even today Asian and African cows, goat, sheep, buffalo, and even human milk are A2.  A mutation led to Western cows evolving with an added A1 protein and they now dominate.

Rearing cow is not all that easy ~ the no. of cows in Triplicane have dwindled, but those on streets have increased !  -  miles away, as  parched pastures force farmers across Europe to purchase expensive feed crops for their hungry herds, a Swiss dairy association may have part of the answer: smaller beasts. New Swiss Cow, a group advising about 100 farmers, is trying to reverse 50-year-old push for bigger animals in Switzerland, which it says was based on the false premise they would boost economic output by producing more milk. While it’s true the livestock long favored by Swiss farmers churn out more milk, smaller cows do it more efficiently by using proportionately less feed and space, according to the association. They also require fewer visits from the vet than their genetically-enhanced cousins, New Swiss Cow said. “Cows bred for maximum milk output are more expensive than smaller cows, as they need more space in the shed, more fodder and are more prone to diseases,” said a person from  New Swiss Cow.

Since the 1960s, Swiss cows have bulked up to as much as 800 kilograms (1,764 pounds) by using semen from American bulls, some of which originally came from central Switzerland. Almost half the nation’s 537,000-strong dairy herd are fawn-spotted Simmental, which were crossbred with U.S. Red Holstein. That crossbreeding helped to more than double the average annual output per animal to 7,400 liters (1,955 gallons), according to the producers association Swiss Milk.  Still, smaller animals of 500 to 600 kilograms can produce a proportionally greater 6,000 to 7,000 liters of milk, according to New Swiss Cow’s Martin Huber, who teaches at a farming institute in Salenstein, near Lake Constance. That rationale applies to other breeds of cow and beyond Switzerland’s borders, he said.

However, in addition to the economics, there’s another reason big isn’t always beautiful in Switzerland, according to the country’s main farmers’ union. Lighter cows can more easily reach alpine pastures, said Sandra Helfenstein, a spokeswoman for the Swiss Farmers’ Union. “The ideal cow looks different in every country,” said Helfenstein. “Every farmer tries to maximize food utilization and with three-quarters of Swiss land being grassland, having to import concentrated feed is leading to higher costs.”  Building further on that, one would be ‘udderly’ surprised to encounter a Simmental or Braunvieh running up the steps of New York’s One World Trade Center or Shanghai’s equally tall World Financial Center.  But that’s the kind of climb – albeit on dirt trails not concrete steps – a typical Swiss dairy cow makes every summer.  According to the Federal Office for Agricultureexternal link, around 270,000 cows are marched from their valley farms to mountain meadows at the start of every summer, just to come back down again in early autumn.

 On average they climb about 590 metres (1,936 ft), covering 16.3 kilometres (10.1 miles) as the crow flies – but much more down on the ground on often steep, serpentine trails. The true alpinists among them make ascents of over 2,000 metres. That’s like getting to the top of the world’s highest building, Dubai’s 830-metre Burj Khalifa, and – not satisfied with that – going back down and doing it all over again, and then some.  Dairy farmers have incentives to herd their cattle high. On the one hand, they get top dollar for the aromatic “Alp cheese” produced from the milk of their livestock. From June to early September, alpine pastures serve up a smorgasbord of hundreds of different grasses and herbs for the cows to graze on. That’s compared with only a few dozen types lower down in the valley.

The government also encourages farmers to take their cattle up the mountain by rewarding them with a subsidy of around CHF400 ($412) per cow each summer. The postcard alpine landscape of extensive pastures is an integral part of Switzerland’s heritage. The rearing of cattle became the dominant form of agriculture in the Alps as early as the 14th century. It’s probably not a coincidence that the process to make cheese hard was discovered in this period, which meant for the first time that cheese could be transported over long distances. The subsidies granted to alpine farmers therefore are aimed partly at preserving this centuries-old tradition of pastoral life and preventing the pastures from becoming forests.

But let’s not pretend the cows do all the work. Herdsmen and women tend to the livestock, driving them out to pasture after the break-of-dawn milking and rounding them up in the late afternoon for a second milking. Making cheese from the liquid bounty fills much of the day in between. On average the men and women work 14-hour days, seven days a week, and are paid as little as CHF70 a day for their labour – about a third of the average Swiss salary. It’s the dream of many Swiss to spend the summer in the fresh mountain air on an “Alp” (mountain pasture), milking cows and making cheese. It’s not unusual to find doctors, lawyers and teachers among those signing up for a crash course in herding and cheese making.  But once they drive their cattle back down the valley after a hard summer on the Alp, they often choose not to go back up again the following year.

The cows aren’t given a choice.  In case you still remember the start and hazard a guess on Aavin milk price for 1 ltr – beware that it comes in 4 varieties and here is the price.
Milk Variety
Toned Milk
Full Cream
Double toned

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
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