Cows & Nutritious Milk

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Results of a better understanding of how to improve the health of dairy cows and keep milk flowing, was published in the Journal of Endocrinology. Daily infusions were given with a chemical associated with feelings of happiness that were shown to increase the calcium levels in the blood of Holstein cows and the milk of Jersey cows that had just given birth.

It is said that we all have a need for milk that is rich in calcium and there is more calcium in the human body than any other mineral. The West dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are the primary sources for this calcium. Demanding so much milk is taking its toll on the milk-producing cows.

Approximately 5-10% of the North American dairy cow population suffers from hypocalcaemia, a condition in which the calcium levels are low.

This disease has a high risk especially immediately before and after cows give birth.

This disease is a major health event in the life of a cow and associated with immunological and digestive problems, decreased pregnancy rates and longer intervals between pregnancies. All of this is a problem for a dairy farmer whose income depends upon regular pregnancies and a high yield of milk that is rich in calcium.

Much research has gone into the treatment of hypocalcemia but little has focused on the prevention. Serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical commonly associated with feelings of happiness and plays a role in maintaining calcium levels, and was given to rodents. A team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by Dr. Laura Hernandez, investigated the potential for serotonin to help increase the calcium levels in both the milk and blood of dairy cows. Twenty-four dairy cows were infused with a chemical that converts to serotonin in the run up to giving birth. They used half Jersey and half Holstein cows which are two of the most common breeds. Both the milk and circulating blood were measured for calcium levels throughout the experiment.

The overall calcium status in both breeds was improved by the serotonin, but brought about in opposite ways. The Holstein cows had higher levels of calcium in their blood but lower calcium in their milk. The Jersey cows results were reversed with higher milk calcium levels obvious at day 30 of lactation. This suggests a role for serotonin in maintaining levels throughout lactation.

The study resulted in revealing that regulation of calcium levels is different between the two breeds. Otherwise, serotonin raised blood calcium in the Holsteins and milk calcium in the Jerseys. The serotonin treatment had no effect on milk yield, feed intake or on levels of hormones required for lactation. It is needed next to investigate the mechanism by which serotonin regulates calcium levels and how this varies between breeds.

They would like to work on the possibility of using serotonin as a preventative measure for hypocalcemia in dairy cows that would allow dairy farmers to maintain the profitability of their businesses while making sure their cows stay healthy and produce nutritious milk. Whichever animal’s milk you drink, cow, goat, etc, please try to always buy organic, hormone-free milk.
-Dr Fredda Branyon

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