As more research demonstrates the health benefits of bovine colostrum for horses, dogs and humans, more companies are coming to the market with colostrum supplements.
But not all bovine colostrum is alike… and information on most of these products is heavy on marketing, but light on what’s actually important when choosing colostrum.Standard of potency
Certain foods have a standard of potency. Live probiotics are measured in CFUs (colony-forming units), while bovine colostrum is measured in IgG (immunoglobulin G) content. Colostrum for mare milk replacement for foals ranges from 45%-60% in IgG.
Many companies do not even provide the IgG information, but I have found through research that most colostrum supplements supply 15% IgG.
BioStar’s colostrum is 38% IgG, and we provide that information on the label as well as on our colostrum product web page. If you are looking at a supplement with colostrum in it and there is no information on IgG percentage, it’s important to contact the company and find out, because lower IgG is like lower CFUs in probiotics: you have to feed so much more for the same result!
Ethics of colostrum
The ethics of collecting bovine colostrum from cows varies widely. It is a known fact that many farms in the dairy industry separate the newborn calf from its mother somewhere between one and 48 hours from birth. The calf, if male, often winds up in the veal industry, and the mother cow experiences high levels of stress looking and bellowing for her calf. Female calves are separated from the herd and raised for the next generation of dairy cows.
In India, this practice is not allowed because cows are sacred animals and should never be consumed for meat. The calves are kept with their mothers. Some small dairies and dairy co-operatives in the UK, New Zealand, Germany, the US, and Canada are “slaughter-free”, and the calves are kept with their mothers until they are 9-10 months old. This practice reduces stress on calves and cows, and according to Dharma Lea Farm in Sharon Springs, New York, produces better milk and healthier cows.
BioStar colostrum comes from a small organic dairy co-operative in Canada. The calves stay with their mothers weaning at 10 months of age. No colostrum is collected until 24-36 hours after birth to ensure the calf gets all the colostrum it needs. This dairy co-op does not provide calves for the veal industry.
When colostrum is listed as an ingredient on a label, there is no way to ascertain how the cows are taken care of. The fact is, the majority of US dairy operations rely on indoor systems to house and feed the cows. These indoor systems often keep cows in tie-stalls on concrete, or tethered by the neck to stanchions. Other indoor systems are concrete-floored cubicles separated from each other by metal bars in a space averaging 7.8 feet by 3.9 feet—barely enough room to lie down. These animals do not get to go outside and graze on grass as a herd. Some operations have drylots, which are unpaved but provide no grazing.
Like horses, cows are social creatures who form relationships within the herd. When they are separated, confined and isolated, stress results, leading to increased plasma levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
The diet of cows on conventional dairy farms is soy and corn, hay, straw, and sometimes silage. Also common in conventional dairies is the use of rBGH—recombinant bovine growth hormone—originally genetically engineered and manufactured by Monsanto to increase a cow’s milk production. The EU, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have banned the use of rGBH due to animal and human health concerns.
One of the many down sides of using rGBH is an increased need for more antibiotics. Cows that are confined in close proximity and under stress are more prone to infections. Around 80% of the antibiotics used in the US are administered to livestock preemptively, before an animal shows any signs of illness.
Organic, grass-fed, rBGH and antibiotic-free
The small dairy co-operative in Canada that BioStar purchases colostrum from is certified organic, antibiotic-free, rGBH-free, and the cows are out on pasture for six months of the year. In the winter, the cows are in barns and go out in the drylots with hay, weather permitting. In organic dairies, forage and hays make up most of the diet, and additional feed must be non-GMO and grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.
Colostrum is a therapeutic food
With over 80 different immune factors and 70 different growth factors, bovine colostrum is an important food for providing therapeutic benefits that include: regulation of the thymus (master gland of the immune system), the providing of immunoglobulins, and assistance with cellular tissue repair. There are some horses and dogs with ongoing immune challenges such as allergies, EPM, and Lyme disease, so daily administration of colostrum is important. For many other horses and dogs, colostrum is used on an as-needed basis for healing a suspensory or wound, or providing various kinds of much-needed support: for uveitis, for non-sweaters, for an immune system that’s under stress from showing and shipping, or for fighting viral and bacterial infections in conjunction with traditional veterinary protocol and medications. Once the horse or dog has healed, colostrum therapy is no longer needed.
Having worked with bovine colostrum for a decade, I do profoundly disagree with companies that recommend colostrum as if it were a multivitamin/mineral… that is, using it every day even in animals without any health challenges. Colostrum is a therapeutic food that should be used as needed, when needed. Unless there is chronic condition, colostrum should be stopped when the health issue is resolved. We want the body to return to homeostasis.
I keep bovine colostrum on hand all the time. During this virulent past flu season I took it every day, and never got sick. Now that the flu epidemic is over, I have stopped taking it. I give it to my dogs when they travel and when we are in Florida where their immune systems can get quite challenged with the different bacteria of tropical climates. I give it to my retired horses if I notice a snotty nose, or a cough. I give it also to support wound healing and if a dog or horse has a connective tissue or muscle tissue strain. But I don’t give it as a daily food, day in and day out like a multvitamin/mineral.
If you are purchasing colostrum, ask questions and find out about the company’s ethics. How it is collected? How are the cows cared for? Supplement labeling laws do allow descriptions of colostrum such as “antibiotic-free” and “rGBH free”. Are you seeing these used on a company’s labels?
Colostrum is a super-therapeutic food. Make sure your horse or dog is getting high-quality IgG colostrum that is ethically sourced.