DAIRYING in Dubai? Surely not! His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al
Maktoum has had the vision to develop Dubai, the capital city of one of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE), into a global metropolis of business, technology and ultra-modernity, including constructing the world’s tallest skyscraper, the near-half-mile-high Burj Khalifa.
However, with the growing pop-
ulation comes an increasing demand for food, including fresh dairy products, particularly milk and yoghurt. Again, the ruling Sheikh had the vision to develop a now well-established local dairy industry to supply perishable milk to the region rather than having it transported from surrounding areas such as Saudi Arabia.
Travelling out into the desert, a few minutes from the edge of the skyscrapers, and you’ll encounter the first of the country’s dairy farms. There are over 42,000 dairy cows in UAE, the primary dairy units being sited in Dubai and the neighbouring Al Ain Emirate.
As is common in the Middle-East, there is a strong European and American involvement in the management of the dairy farms and in the case of UAE, there is a particularly strong Irish influence developed to a large extent from previous management experience at the extensive Almarai dairy in nearby Saudi Arabia.
The largest of the UAE farms, Al Rawabi, is situated just 20-30 minutes from downtown Dubai, with the ever-increasing skyscrapers continuing to encroach. This dairy is a 14,000+ head unit with on-site processing and manufacturing plant.
Al Ain dairy, with 12,000+ head (6,000 milking) of very high yielding cows under the management of Carlow man Pat O’Dwyer, also has an accompanying 2,000-head camel unit producing for the growing camel milk market. Camel milk is developing in this region, with the Camelicious Camel Farm developing a particularly strong brand for this vitamin C-enriched product from its 6,100+ herd.
The nearby 4,200-head Marmum dairy (averaging over 11,000 litres) is particularly impressive with the ‘green field’ desert site development having been recently relocated from Dubai.
Under the management of Cross-molina, County Mayo native Ray
Walsh, this is another integrated dairy, processing its own milk on site and is the first unit I have come across that is using new desalination technology to meet its requirements for water.
A short distance away is National Farm, with cows peaking over 13,000 litres under the management of another Irishman, Gerald Kiernan from Drogheda, Couth Louth, and producing to a white-water-type contract with a minimum 3.4 per cent fat though no payment for milk protein.
American genetics are common, with the push for increasing milk volume being the main driver on most units from these Holstein Friesian herds.
Among the major challenges in this arid region are availability of feed, water and heat stress. Dairies are under pressure with water usage, and crops are not grown in the country due to the considerable drain on water resources required for irrigation.
Forages are shipped and trucked in from other countries, including as far away as the USA and South America, supplemented with im-ported cereals and grains.
Nutrition tends to centre on US-type rations with high starch intakes driving energy supply and fairly typical feed ingredients, including alfalfa hay, soya bean hulls, wheat, barley, maize and cottonseed.
With summer temperatures reach-ing 50°C+, these high-producing cows are under severe heat stress for a large proportion of the year.
The shaded corral areas are endowed with ventilating fans, typically with inbuilt water misters. Similarly, water misters are common at the feeding areas to cool cows while eating and during milking.
Fat supplements are a key ration component in these heat-challenged areas with the low metabolic heat production offering a nutritional method of reducing internal body heat generation. Higher fat diets are critical for production of the progesterone hormone essential for fertility and there is also considerable interest in the newer technologies based on the Michigan State University (USA) research from Prof. Adam Lock with the more-balanced palmitic/oleic fatty acid ratio (60:30) offered by the newly-developed Mega-Max product from Volac Wilmar.
With the UAE known primarily for the opulent and rapidly-developing city of Dubai, it’s valuable to be reminded that this growing population needs an ever-increasing supply of essential nutrients.
And, despite the harsh desert conditions, the dairy industry has developed to provide perishable products in the local environment.
Another good lesson as to what can be achieved when there is a will and a driver to make it happen!