Bovine colostrum is an important therapeutic food for horses and dogs. It provides over 70 different growth factors for tissue repair, and over 80 immune factors. These immune factors include the immunoglobulins and the proline-rich peptides (PRPs). PRPs regulate the thymus — the master gland of the immune system. Regulation of the immune system is important, as the body is constantly seeking homeostasis, or balance. An immune system that is already stimulated, as in the case with allergic reactions, does not need more stimulation. Likewise, an immune system not fully responding to an invading virus may need to be stimulated. The PRPs in bovine colostrum help modulate and balance the immune system according to the body’s needs.
Dairy cows produce more colostrum than their calves require. Mature dairy cows can produce 80-100 pounds of colostrum in four days and calves consume a third of that amount. China, the US, and Europe are the three main human-use markets, particularly in the area of sports nutrition. The Chinese have been using colostrum for human wellness for generations and are far ahead of the Americans and Europeans in using this food.
Grades of colostrum
Similar to how viable probiotics are measured in colony-forming units (CFUs), bovine colostrum is measured in terms of the percentage of antibodies—or immunoglobulins—that it contains. The specific immunoglobulin measured in bovine colostrum is called immunoglobulin G, or IgG for short.
Bovine colostrum used as milk replacement for foals provides the highest IgG level at 40% or more. The most common colostrum supplements available typically provide 15% IgG content. BioStar’s Colostrum-38 EQ and Colostrum-38 K9 formulations both provide 38% IgG content.
Additives to colostrum
Some companies add soy, silicon dioxide (or silica), marine coral and, if in capsule form, gelatin and magnesium stearate. Some colostrum supplements for dogs and horses also include hydrogen peroxide as a preservative. BioStar does not use any additives. Our colostrum is 100% colostrum.
The ethics of bovine colostrum: Where is it coming from?
With the growing popularity of bovine colostrum supplements for humans as well as for animals, companies are free to add colostrum to a product without revealing much about the strength of their colostrum, its source, or the ethics of collecting it. This is where consumers have to do a little digging to find out more about the colostrum they are purchasing.
Few companies reveal how their colostrum is collected. Across the spectrum of bovine colostrum supplements for humans, horses, cows and dogs, many companies don’t know how their colostrum is collected, or the care and condition of the cows and calves. Colostrum, for some companies, is simply a commodity ingredient.
When I first started studying bovine colostrum eight years ago, the ethics of taking colostrum from cows was deeply disturbing. How could I take away the important first milk of a newborn calf? I also was deeply concerned about the care of the cows and calves. Were these animals treated like cows in the corporate agriculture dairy industry?
During my research I could not find one US source of colostrum that fit my ethics. I broadened my search to New Zealand, India, and Canada. New Zealand has very high standards of animal welfare, much higher than the US. In India, of course, cows are treated like family; there are Hindu festivals honoring the animals. Canada has banned the popular rGBH growth hormone for dairy cows, as has the EU and New Zealand.
Some companies collect the colostrum within the first six hours of birth, potentially robbing the calf of the important first milk of the mother. That is not a practice I personally can live with. Some dairy companies take the calf away from its mother 24 hours after birth — a practice I personally find inhumane and traumatizing.
What are the living conditions of the cows?
Colostrum is an important therapeutic food whose quality depends on the quality of the cows’ lifestyle. It was of utmost importance to me that I find a source of bovine colostrum that came from cows that are grass-fed, pasture-raised, and fed a GMO-free diet. The cows had to be rBGH-free and antibiotic-free. It was imperative that the cows not live in a factory animal facility, so I sought out small dairy cooperatives, searching for a sustainable and ethical source of colostrum.
There are different methods of processing colostrum, including freezing or high temperature processing, and spray drying. The small company BioStar works with in Canada collects colostrum after the first 24 hours of calving and processes the colostrum the same day without having to use rapid freezing and rapid thawing techniques, which can cause damage to protein molecules and compromise the biological activity of the ingredients in colostrum. This low temperature collection method used by our Canadian supplier is the same technique used in New Zealand. The colostrum is then flash-pasteurized and freeze-dried using low temperatures to maintain the bioavailability of the colostrum.
BioStar’s colostrum is collected from several small organic dairy cooperatives in eastern Canada. These dairy cows are pasture-raised, grass-fed, rBGH-free and antibiotic-free. The calves stay with their mothers, because cows produce better milk when they can keep their calves. A stressed cow produces stressed milk.
Having studied and used colostrum for eight years has not made me a bovine colostrum expert, but has given me knowledge and experience in how to use this amazing food for the best results. Some key applications and points to consider:
- Colostrum is therapeutic. For the immune system, it should be used to support homeostasis. We want the body system to maintain its own homeostasis; however, sometimes the body needs the help of colostrum therapy before it is able to maintain a healthy balance on its own. Once homeostasis has been achieved, colostrum is not required or needed. If a horse or dog has ongoing autoimmune issues, immune system compromises, or chronic immune challenges then colostrum is needed every day.
- With conditions such as equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) or Lyme disease, colostrum is beneficial in supporting the immune system during treatment. Horses and dogs that experience stress-related immune issues benefit from colostrum during periods of stress.
- For tissue repair, wound healing, and cellular GI tract healing, colostrum provides the important growth factors for cellular repair. Once the healing is completed, colostrum is no longer needed.
- For muscle restoration from training stress, colostrum helps with the important recovery period. But on days that the horse is worked lightly or completely rested, there is no need to give colostrum.
- When horses are fighting viruses, colostrum is an important food to help the antibodies fight the invader. Once the horse or dog has recovered, you can stop the colostrum.
- The amount of colostrum needed for efficacy depends on the IgG percentage. The higher the IgG content, the more potent the colostrum is.
- Some senior horses and senior dogs can benefit from daily colostrum if they have ongoing issues. But a healthy horse or dog does not need daily colostrum until an issue arises. If your horse or dog has no ongoing or chronic issues, giving colostrum is of little benefit. Colostrum is food support to the body system when the body needs additional support and balancing.