The milk of the indigenous, small-sized Vechur cow is more beneficial to health than the milk from cross-bred bovine varieties.
This has been revealed in a study conducted for a thesis at the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Trissur by EM Muhammed for his thesis for MVSc programme at the college.
Muhammed, who is on leave from the animal husbandry department to pursue his post graduate studies, has concluded in his study that beta casein A2, a milk protein that prevents diabetes, heart diseases, atherosclerosis, autism and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), is found in Vechur cattle in higher measure than in other breeds such as: Jersey, Holstein-Friesian and Brown Swiss which are Keralite’s favourites.
The study was conducted by Dr Muhammed under the guidance of Dr Stephen Mathew, Professor in the Department of Animal Breeding, Genetics and Biostatistics.
Beta casein is a major milk protein that imparts biological, technological and physical properties to milk. There has been a finding recently that beta casein yields biologically active peptides during digestion that takes place in the intestine.
Among 12 beta casein variants, two common types have been identified as A1 and A2. The former has been found to trigger releases of substances that cause various illnesses like diabetes, heart diseases, atherosclerosis, schizophrenia and SIDS. However A2 is found to be safe for human consumption.
Milk breeds such as Holstein Friesian and Ayrshire have a high frequency of A1 gene but most of the Indian breeds of animals have only the beneficial A2 gene.
For this thesis Muhammed has made a comparative study of presence of A2 in Vechur cows and cross -bred cows found in the State and found though cross-breeding of cattle may yield more milk , it may also increase presence of harmful A1 gene in the State’s bovine population.
Said Muhammed “ it is clear our efforts should be to increase cattle population capable of the beneficial A2 gene variant of beta casein which has a global demand.”.
Population of Vechur cows, a small –sized breed of cattle native to Vechur in Kottayam district and found in Kottayam-Ernakulam – Alapuzha belt, has dwindled to around 200. Nearly half of them are kept at the Veterinary College in Trissur.
Vechur cows yield less milk than exotic cross bresd varieties (about two to three kg daily which is nearly half of that from cross breeds) but needs almost no veterinary care at all. This variety almost became extinct because of aggressive cross breeding policies followed in the State by using exotic germplasm on local female cattle.
In 1986 a search launched by teachers and students of Veterinary College led to identification of a handful of Vechur cows and the launch of Conservation of Vechur cow programme.
Now owning a Vechur cow is not easy. An application has to be submitted to the Veterinary College Mannuthy at Trissur. The queues are long and it takes almost five years for an applicant to get one. The six month old calf that is released to the applicant from the veterinary college would cost Rs 5000.