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KOZARAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina – There is reason to envy Jusuf Arifagic's cows.
In a country where half of the population is living in poverty, his animals sleep on mattresses in a barn with a computerized air conditioning and lighting system. They are bathed regularly, get a massage whenever they feel like it and receive the occasional pedicure.
Relaxing music — sometimes classic, sometimes local serenades — makes sure milking is not stressful.
"Nobody should envy my cows. Everybody should just realize that the visa for the future is science," said Jusuf Arifagic, the 52-year-old farmer everybody around Kozarac in northwestern Bosnia is talking about.
Arifagic brought the concept of pampering cows from Norway where he lived as a refugee after fleeing from Bosnia's 1992-95 war.
After years of negotiations with both countries, Arifagic invested 8 million euros ($11 million) into the luxury farm that started four months ago with the importation of 115 Norwegian Red Cows — a tough and hornless animal bred over the past 75 years to produce more and better milk. His plan is to expand to 5,000 cows, creating the biggest facility in Europe for this type of animal.
He wants other farmers in Bosnia to follow suit so Norway can one day move some of its diary production to Bosnia. That would avoid the high heating costs during six months of Norway's harsh winter and would help reduce Bosnia's almost 40 percent unemployment rate.
Arifagic and his 25 employees monitor every corner of the rubber-floored barn on computer screens. The huge hall looks almost empty, as most of the animals prefer to hang out by the six automatic car wash-style brushes, enjoying massages. A computer regulates the temperature, the quality of air and the lighting, keeping the cows healthy.
Arifagic's calculation: Pampered cows give five liters more of milk a day. Multiply that by hundreds of cows and "although initially expensive, advanced technology really pays off in just a few years," he said.
Veterinarian inspector Velibor Kesic says Arifagic's concept is also making his job easier by showing other farmers how to reduce infectious diseases.
The luxury cow treatment has certainly stunned the neighbors in Kozarac.
"My barn can't compare to his," said farmer Dervis Menhovic, whose family keeps seven cows squeezed into a traditional barn next to his house. "His is a hotel."
The new facility holds another, maybe even more important benefit for Bosnia. Both Serbs and Bosniaks work at Arifagic's farm — the entrepreneur has no time for the animosities of the past.
"We live, work and create here," he said. "For the first time since the war, young and educated people are returning to Kozarac."