yoghurt for breakfast, a little milk chocolate once in a while, creamy pasta for your evening meal: we consume milk in lots of ways. The HOCHDORF Group’s Swiss ­production sites process around 800,000 litres of milk each day. But not all milk is the same. As with everything, the quality is determined by the method of production. And who produces our delicious milk? Our Swiss dairy cows of course!

Swiss milk – the basis for genuine quality products

We drink it fresh, use it for cooking and baking or consume it every day in processed form in various dairy products. For many of us, milk forms an important part of our daily nutrition. But what makes Swiss milk so special? A brief insight into the life of a dairy cow called Fiona provides a clue.

From calf to dairy cow

Farmer Toni is a little nervous: today is the big day. His favourite dairy cow Bella is in calf and the birth is due anytime now. A name has already been chosen and the beautiful little calf will be called Fiona. It’s a traditional Swiss name for a cow, one of the favourites for new-born calves.(1) Fiona will follow in her mother Bella’s footsteps and become one of Toni’s future dairy cows. Fiona will only become a dairy cow once she has had a calf herself and the milk production begins in her udder.

Swiss farmers provide their animals with high-quality feed.

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 and protein. Milk also contains vitamins, as well as a combination of essential minerals such as iron, iodine and potassium. 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.

Strict conditions and controls supportanimal welfare and ensure that only milk of the best quality is processed and ends up on our table.

Fiona’s milk is also tested regularly. A considerable quantity of milk already forms in her udder as eats, lies around and ruminates her food. And so the day ends as it began. Fiona and the other dairy cows are milked again. Her milk flows through the milking machine directly into the milk tank, where it is cooled to between 3 and 4 C°. The driver of the tanker checks the milk for smell and appearance before transport.
A quality sample is also taken from the tank, which is checked for inhibitors using a rapid test before unloading. This provides HOCHDORF with fresh Swiss milk every day, which it processes into high-quality milk powder and other milk derivatives.

The best Swiss milk – a combination of many factors

Good health, sufficient exercise and rich feed as well as clean water and fresh air enable Swiss dairy cows to produce high-quality milk. Strict conditions and controls support animal welfare and ensure that only the best quality milk is processed and ends up on our tables. Swiss milk is among the best in the world thanks to the Swiss farmers and all of the 575,000 Fionas and Bellas.

Milk ingredients

Milk is not just delicious – it’s very healthy too. Milk contains the following ingredients(11):

  • Water: a large proportion of milk consists of water
  • Lactose: energy supplier, ensures development of intestinal bacteria, promotes absorption of calcium
  • Milk fat: concentrated energy supplier, carrier of important fat-soluble vitamins
  • Protein: the body’s most important building material
  • Vitamins: vitamin A for vision, vitamin D for bone formation, vitamin E for cell protection, vitamin K for blood coagulation, vitamin B2 for metabolism
  • Minerals: magnesium, phosphate, iodine, zinc, potassium, iron, manganese, cobalt
  • Calcium: provides strong bones

Further information

1) www.swissmilk.ch
2) LID Landwirtschaftlicher Informationsdienst, Alles über die ­Schweizer Milch, Ausgabe Juli 2018
3) www.milch-umwelt.swissmilk.ch
4) www.spektrum.de
5) www.milch-umwelt.swissmilk.ch
6) www.milch-umwelt.swissmilk.ch
7) www.blv.admin.ch
8) www.zmp.ch
9) www.blv.admin.ch
10) www.aphis.usda.gov
11) www.landwirtschaft.ch