While the ancient Japanese raised cows to work on the farms, it is believed that cows were also raised for their raw milk starting in the mid seventh century. Cow’s milk was initially consumed only by the aristocratic class as a nutritional supplement, or as so, a processed food made by boiling down raw milk. The culture of cow’s milk consumption did not permeate to the general public until after the arrival of the black ships of Commodore Perry. The demand for raw milk grew as Western culture became more widespread, and as such the number of milk farmers started to increase, allowing average people to easily access it.
In the modern day, milk is not only consumed as a beverage, but also readily made into processed foods and sweets. Known as the dairy country, Hokkaido, in particular, has garnered popularity the world over for many of the dairy products made using Hokkaido’s locally-produced milk.
In terms of dairy cattle count, Betsukai Town is the leader with a total count of 215,000, which nearly triples that of Nakashibetsu Town’s total count, which ranks second. All of the high-ranked towns with large cattle count are located within Eastern Hokkaido, with most of the milk produced in towns situated along the Pacific Ocean.
■Map / Main producing municipalities
Betsukai Town, Nakashibetsu Town, Shibecha Town, Hamanaka Town, Shihoro Town, Shimizu Town, Shibetsu Town, Shikaoi Town, Otofuke Town, Monbetsu City
Hokkaido’s main milk producing Holstein cows do not like heat as they tend to have a decreased appetite and milk production in high temperatures. For this reason, Hokkaido’s cool climate is great for this particular type of herd. Moreover, Hokkaido’s wide open farmland allows cattle to freely graze on high quality pasture, which minimizes their stress and the negative effect on milk production.
In winter, the cattle are given fermented hays, and sometimes compound feeds for a nutritional supplement. However, there is a growing number of dairy farmers who grow and supply their own maize grain rather than relying on imported grains for feed. There is a slow increase in crop acreage that grow feed grains for milk cows, while the development of self-supplied feed suited for the local environment is also underway.
The supply of milk is stable, with fresh products available to the public throughout the year.