Saudi Arabia: Cows in Saudi Arabia?

One thing I did not see during my 3 years in Saudi Arabia were cows.  It was not that I was specifically looking for them but made the mental comparison that seeing camels along the roads was as common as seeing the cows in America.  Now I discover through this Wall Street Journal article is that there is in fact a dairy farm with 67,000 white and black splotched  Holstein-Friesians cows and unlike any dairy farm one would likely see in the United States!

Bear in mind that the Holstein-Friesian cow originated in Europe.  The major development of this breed occurred in what is now the Netherlands.  Needless to say, it does not reach 117 degrees Fahrenheit in the midst of a Dutch summer.  Whereas in Saudi Arabia, the breed had to adapt to the new terrain of the desert and the intense temperatures.

In Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia, the Almarai dairy farm is the largest dairy farm by value in the entire Middle East!  Almarai (which is Arabic for the world pasture) is the largest integrated dairy foods company in the world!  It was also the first dairy farm in the world to have been accredited with ISO 9002.

This video gives background on Almarai dairy:


Here is an interesting video taken during milking time at the dairy:




24 Responses

  1. Having lived and worked on a dairy farm in America, I would guess the cows are only milked by men?? In the US as well as Europe, women were always considered the better ones to milk cows.

  2. Super-cool! I wonder if there are any other animals, such as goats, etc. that are farmed in KSA for their milk?

  3. Aw yay…I love cows!

  4. That is correct; the cows are milked by men. Actually the cows are milked by machines which are operated by men.

  5. Oh my gosh Carol, Al Marai’s dairy farm is huge! Drove past it (amongst others) by taking a wrong turn on the way to Madina from Al Asha. It’s amazing! What was really bizarre is we were driving through desert and all of a sudden we would see fields of green for a few kilos…..growing feed for the livestock. They had the same irrigation as one would see in the corn fields in the States. It was really cool to see. Al Marari products are so good! I miss it when I have to come back to the States.

  6. Thanks for the “first hand view” comment, Umm Zacharia. If I had been aware of it while I was in Saudi I would have seen if I could have had a tour!

  7. @Katharine, was it that women were “best” at milking? Or is it a custom developed from pre-industrial farming, when most farm work was far more physically involved?
    From what I’ve both heard and read (heard from elderly people who remember working their farms in the pre-tractor and mechanized equipment days), men handled heavier tasks, such as plowing by horse drawn plows, digging fence posts, then and now lifting hay bails, etc. Women handled the lighter work, for several reasons.
    1: They were closer to the house, which made meal preparation more practical.
    2: They were closer to any small children near the house.
    Let’s not look at ancient traditions origination through 21st century eyes and miss what the reasoning was behind the traditions of today.

    I recall back in 1973, during the energy crisis, much loud talk about how the US was selling food to the OPEC nations at low prices, but we were embargoed from oil sales (ignoring the US peak oil problem, rather conveniently). There was a LOT of loud talk in the US of cutting off food exports to OPEC nations.
    Shortly thereafter, there was renewed interest in, especially, Arab nations in sustainable food production. There was ROYAL interest in restoration of farming and dairy, with funding following that interest.
    Fortunately, there was quite a bit of forethought in forming modern production, with state of the art facilities.
    Today, Al Marai is the largest producer in the region. There is one thing that is emphasized in the region that the US lacks greatly, shelf-stable milk products.
    I rather miss getting shelf-stable cream, rather than having to run out for refrigerated cream when I want to cook something.
    But, different cultures and traditions, even with foods. Shelf-stable milk never really caught on in the US. :/
    One other product of the region that I miss dearly is kiwi-lime juice, but hanged if I can recall what company made it.

  8. I had read about this huge dairy company before so it was interesting to see the videos. I was very happy to be able to have fresh milk and cream when I was in KSA. I do not like ‘shelf stable’ milk or cream. It simply doesn’t taste the same and fresh.

    As for cows living in heat .. they are all over Africa and we get fresh milk delivered to the house in Sudan every day. Are they different cows? They look the same.

  9. I used the cream and shelf-stable milk for mostly cooking, hence, the flavor change was not noticed by any. 🙂

    The natural range of bovine creatures that modern cattle descended from was Europe, most of Asia and North Africa, so heat seems to be breed specific to some level. Modern genetic analysis indicates modern cattle originated from a small pool of animals (as few as 80) from southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq (Bollongino, Ruth & al. Molecular Biology and Evolution).
    So, they’re the same species, different breeds, which have different tolerances for both environmental conditions (heat/cold, arid/wet and grazing sources (heath, marshes, hills, flat lands, etc). The breeds I saw around the Horn of Africa were somewhat different than the cattle bred in the US and other regions, which makes sense, as the environment is substantially different.
    In many ways, one can trace human history through the domestication of various animals. One can trace goats, sheep and cattle through human history from the neolithic period, as humans improved their new development of farming from the previous hunter-gatherer existence.

  10. @StrangeOne, Camels, in a sense, are farmed for milk. On Riyadh road leaving Al Ahsa ( hey,spelled it right this time 😉 ) the Bedowin bring certain female camels in the morning up next to the highway for people to stop and get fresh camel milk. We stopped one morning for our children to see them and we all got to drink camel milk…..milked right in front of us. The kids were a little hesitant to drink milk out of a bowl that just came straight from the camel but they were all great sports about it. The milk is quite good. Definitely a higher cream content than cows milk.

    Also, as a side note, my husband has told me Al Marai does chickens as well.

  11. Oh, and Carol, I would love to tour Al Marai’s dairy. It looked immaculate from the outside and the grounds around the dairy were very nice. It would appear that they take very good care of their cows.

  12. @UmmZacharia, I dunno about immaculate. There WAS cow poop there. 😉
    Seriously though, I wish they showed how they cleaned the fittings that go to the cow nipples (or how they clean the nipples). I recall seeing US dairies cleaning the nipples with something that looks like betadine to ensure no bacteria enter into the milk. A bit paranoid, as they then pasteurize the milk, but that is the current standard here.
    I just like to see the FULL practice, to compare the two.

    Never *DID* get a chance at camel milk. It was usually sold out or consumed to camel capacity when I got the chance to try it. :/
    I’ve had goat milk, quite tasty. Both fresh from the animal AND on a store shelf, though most US citizens would have to get used to the higher fat content.

  13. Interesting. Wonder if it’s expensive to buy the milk. It would require alot of irrigation to grow grass for them to naturally feed on (I know cows eat other stuff.)

    Good for them. Milk should be bought locally given the nature of the product. Canned milk should be only for certain recipes. I find it usually too rich. Forget about powdered milk…only when camping.

    But then I drink skim milk.

    Wonder if soy milk will ever catch on KSA. Somehow I think cow milk has a cache status there. I’m only saying this because there are whole other cultures whose diet has not included much milk at all.

    Speaking of which..I just realized bison meat (which is common in ranchland Canada and U.S. where I live), would be a real cache for KSA menu.

  14. And it just occurred to me, so would maple syrup.

  15. I remember a Tash ma Tash episode that featured one of the actors and the effects of having too much camel milk! (smile)

  16. When we visit Saudi and Sudan we take a very heavy supply of maple syrup with us and it is a major trieat!!!

  17. Good idea! Maple syrup is rather rare in most Arab nations.
    I’ve had recipes that required molasses, which went unfulfilled with molasses. But, date syrup made an excellent substitute.
    Hmmmm, perhaps a maple syrup black market…? 😉

  18. “Bear in mind that the Holstein-Friesian cow originated in Europe. The major development of this breed occurred in what is now the Netherlands.”

    I dont recall the Netherlands to have been called anything else but the Netherlands (Holland as name is only used by the Dutch).

    I also believe that the Netherlands existed already much longer before the Holstein-Friesian cow was bred (20th century).

  19. I so know that episode of Tash ma Tash……he had several calls to “Switzerland”😉😃😃

  20. I regularly find soy milk, maple syrup and molasses- though they call that something else, maybe ‘cane syrup”? available in Jeddah.

  21. Wzrd1 – Perhaps you are joking about the black market for maple syrup or perhaps you are referring to the rather major $30 million theft of maple syrup earlier this year from Quebec? 😦

  22. I was referring to a black market for maple syrup in the KSA. 😉
    Didn’t hear about the Quebec theft. Just looked it up. WOW, ten MILLION POUNDS!
    That is a LOT of syrup!
    Thankfully, it was insured, so there wasn’t a financial loss for the producers.
    But… WOW!

  23. In British english, molasses is called “treacle”. Which term is used in KSA most often?

    @UmmZacharia, Thanks for the info! 🙂

  24. I saw treacle and tried it. It lacked some of the sulfurous flavor and didn’t quite do as well as molasses or the date syrup (which also had a bit of a sulfurous flavor to it) in one recipe, hanged if I can figure out why.
    I actually kept BOTH on my pantry shelf, as it was hit and miss for availability for both at times.
    In Qatar, treacle was the same as the UK version. But, Qatar was a British protectorate, so many UK foods were available there (even haggis).

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