Four years on and Fiona has quickly found her place among Toni's other dairy cows. Early in the morning, with the moon still shining, a long day slowly dawns on the farm. Having recently given birth to her second calf, Fiona knows the drill. She and the other cows are already waiting at the milking parlour when farmer Toni enters the cowshed at 5.30 am on the dot. Like almost all Swiss dairy farmers, Toni works with a milking machine. This has the advantage that the milk is gently sucked out of the udders, in a similar motion to a calf taking milk from its mother. Milking takes around 7 – 8 minutes. Each cow is then fed a quantity of concentrated feed related to its milk yield. Fiona is getting a little more than the average 2 kilogrammes today. Having recently given birth to a calf, her mammary glands are producing particularly large quantities of milk.(2)Valuable ingredients from high-quality feed
Milk has a water content of 88 %. The remaining 12 % comprises lactose
, milk fat
. Milk also contains vitamins, as well as a combination of essential minerals such as iron
. Milk is one of the best sources of calcium
, providing for strong and healthy bones. A Swiss dairy cow supplies 20 litres of this valuable and nutritious milk each day. That's a lot of work! Fiona has to drink 50-100 litres of water a day to maintain this level of performance. Her milk is only nutritious if she has sufficient nutrients in her blood, which itself depends on how much food she devours each day. And devours is the right word in this context!
It's time for the morning walk in the pastures. Fiona and the other dairy cows now spend the rest of the morning in the fields. Spending time together as a group is important for the animals' social development. Cows throughout Switzerland have around 800,000 hectares of grazing land, the equivalent of about 800,000 football pitches. The pasture fodder needs to be rich in content and easily digestible. Swiss farmers look for a good mixture of juicy and aromatic grasses, clover and herbs and provide their animals with high-quality feed – the basis for the best Swiss milk.(3)
Midday: it's time for Fiona to return to the cowshed. Grass and corn silage is available at her feeding station. Silage is a vegetable feed preserved by natural lactic acid fermentation.(4) Corn provides cows with important energy in the form of starch. Fiona is kept in a free stall and decides when and how much to eat herself. She has had enough to eat for the moment. Fiona makes herself comfortable in the straw-littered lying area and begins to chew on her food again. Cows are able to break down raw fibres
such as plants that are indigestible for humans. This provides us with nutrients that we would not be able to absorb without the preparatory work of the cows. Animal husbandry as a key factor
Only healthy cows produce high-quality milk. Husbandry has a key influence on the health of the animals. Fiona is in luck – Switzerland has some of the strictest animal welfare laws in the world.(5) Both
legislation to protect animals and voluntary agricultural programmes ensure animal welfare in Switzerland. 84 % of all Swiss dairy cows are part of the voluntary RAUS programme and thus receive regular outdoor exercise. 48 % of all dairy cows live in particularly animal-friendly housing systems (voluntary BTS programme). Switzerland is a clear winner with regard to animal welfare in a Europe-wide comparison.(6) Proven quality
Swiss milk is of a very high quality. But how can we prove this? Every four years, milk producers are monitored by a cantonal milk inspector. In addition, a milk sample is taken automatically each time the milk is collected. Two randomly selected samples are tested every month in an official laboratory for the bacterial count, cell count and freezing point. The milk is also tested for inhibitors (such as antibiotics).(7) The limit values tend to be low compared to other countries, which clearly has a positive effect on quality.