Cows on a Plane: 165 Bovines Airlifted to Qatar to Meet Milk Demand, Circumvent Saudi Blockade

A cow at a dairy organic farm in Plesse, western France. A Qatari businessman is to airlift 4,000 to the Gulf state amid a blockade by rival Sunni countries. Loic Venance/AFP/Getty

A Qatari businessman's plan to airlift 4,000 cows to a farm near Doha due to beef with its Gulf neighbors began on Wednesday as the first batch of bovines landed in country. The goal: to boost Qatar's milk supply and ween Doha off Riyadh's teat.

On June 5, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut diplomatic and transportation ties with Qatar, accusing the country of funding extremist groups and siding with Iran. Qatar denies the accusations.

Doha's allies, Iran and Turkey, have helped the country deliver supplies to meet the increased demand in light of the blockade. Kuwait has tried to mediate the crisis, but has had little success as Qatar continues to reject a list of demands from the countries aimed at ending the spat.

So Moutaz Al Khayyat, an entrepreneur and chairman of Qatari construction firm Power International Holding, hatched a plan to circumvent part of the blockade and improve Doha's local dairy industry. The cows will help Qatar meet 30 percent of its dairy demand (the country currently receives 80 percent of its food imports from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf neighbors).

The first installment, 165 Holstein dairy cows from Budapest, arrived at their new home, Baladna farm, located outside the capital of Doha, after a Qatar Airways cargo plane transported them to the country.

"There are 35 milking cows, that are in milk at present and there are 130 that will calve in the next two-to-three weeks," John Dore, a senior manager at Baladna Livestock Production, told AFP news agency.

The farm's Facebook page showed its new additions grazing at an indoor complex. The rest of their bovine buddies will arrive from the U.S., Australia, the Netherlands and Germany.

The country wants to reduce its reliance on imports from its Gulf neighbors, so bringing in more cattle would allow its dairy industry to become more self-sustainable.

"This is the time to work for Qatar," Khayyat told Bloomberg of the airlift plan.

The cows are not the only animals to leave the country after Saudi Arabia got the hump with its neighbor. Riyadh deported more than 15,000 Qatari camels last month as the rift deepened between the two oil-rich Gulf states.

The camels had been stranded on the border, but headed home after Qatari herders struck a deal with Saudi guards for their collection.