Milk of the indigenous, small-sized Vechur cow is more beneficial to health than that from the more common cross-bred bovine varieties.

This has been revealed in a study conducted at the College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences in Thrissur by E.M. Muhammed for his thesis for MVSc. programme.

Dr. Muhammed, who is on leave from the Animal Husbandry Department to pursue his postgraduate studies, has concluded 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 cross-bred Jersey, Holstein-Friesian and Brown Swiss varieties which are Keralite's favourites since they yield more milk.

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 and physical properties to milk. There has been a finding recently that beta casein yields biologically active peptides during digestion 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.

Milch breeds such as Holstein Friesian and Ayrshire have a high frequency of A1 gene but most of the Indian breeds have only the beneficial A2 gene.

For this thesis, Dr. Muhammed has made a comparative study of presence of A2 in Vechur cows and cross-bred cows in the State and found that though cross-breeding of cattle may yield more milk, it may also increase presence of harmful A1 gene in the State's bovine population.

“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,” he said.

Population of Vechur cow, a native to Vechur in Kottayam district and found in Kottayam- Ernakulam- Alappuzha belt, has dwindled to around 200. Nearly half of them are kept at the veterinary college, Mannuthy, in Thrissur.

Vechur cows yield less milk than exotic cross-breeds (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.