In today's modern age, people seldom have the opportunity to see raw milk. Most people would not even hesitate to state that all milk is white. The truth is that few people even think that different breeds of cows may give alternative color milk. Even fewer people know the breed of cow that gives the milk. Jersey cows are a relatively commonly known breed. People who see a Jersey cow's milk for the first time may be surprised and wonder if the milk is safe to drink.
Jersey cow milk is rich in butterfat. This makes the milk yellow rather than white. Cream from Jersey cows is thick and yellow. This is due to the high levels of beta carotene in the milk. The milk is safe to drink, rich in nutrients, and antioxidants and valuable for making cheese and butter.
Different breeds of cows produce milk with slightly different colors. This is linked to their genetics but can also be affected by the food they eat. Consumers have become used to drinking only pure white milk, and most do not like change of any sort. Jersey cow milk is often used for producing other dairy products.
Why Is Jersey Cow Milk Yellow?
Jersey cows produce milk that is yellow or yellowish in color. They have a high amount of butterfat in their milk (5.2 % – 5.3 %). Holsteins produce the pure white milk most people are used to, and they only have a butterfat content of 3.4 %.
Beta carotene and xanthophylls are substances that are found in fat, stores in cattle. They are absorbed from the grass, vegetables, and other plant materials they eat. Beta carotene and xanthophyll are also found in milk.
Therefore, because Jersey cows have such a high percentage of fat in their milk, there are also high beta carotene and xanthophyll levels, making the milk yellow.
What Are Beta Carotene and Xanthophyll?
Beta carotene and xanthophylls are carotenoids that are found in plants. They give the plant color. Beta carotene gives red, orange, or yellow, and xanthophylls give plants yellow to brown shades. They are seen easily in plants such as carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
Carotenoids exist in other plants but may be obscured by chlorophyll which gives plants their green pigment. In some plants, as winter approaches, the chlorophyll dies down. The plants or their leaves become yellow, red, orange, or brown as the carotenoids are seen.
The Cows' Feed Makes A Difference To Milk Color
Plants have different levels of beta carotene and xanthophylls. As a result, the food the cows eat determines the color of their milk. Cows that are kept on grass pastures only often have yellower milk than cows fed commercial foods. Cows may need to have their feed supplemented in winter when natural grass is scarce. They may be given hay or silage.
Generally, silage contains higher levels of carotenoids than hay. Alfalfa is an example of a food source for cattle that is high in carotenoids.
Difference Between Hay and Silage
The difference between hay and silage is the method of processing used to preserve the grass for later use. Silage is the grass that is cut, fermented, and stored in a silo until it is needed. Hay is produced when the grass is cut and left to dry in the sun. It is then usually baled and kept in barns until it is required for feeding animals
Are Carotenoids Good For You?
Carotenoids are the basic building blocks for the production of Vitamin A. As such, they are vital for our bodies. Vitamin A is produced from carotenoids by the liver or intestines. Vitamin A may also be called retinol and is essential for the proper functioning of our eyes and vision. It is also vital for our skin and mucous membrane health. Retinol plays a crucial role in maintaining an effective immune system.
Carotenoids and Vitamin A are fat-soluble and stored in the fat of the body. The important feature to note is that they can only be absorbed in the presence of fat. If you take a Vitamin A supplement without fat, it will not be absorbed into your body.
As such, milk and dairy products provide an ideal opportunity for the body to stock up on vitamin A. Milk has a fat content and thus allows the body to absorb the carotenoids present in the milk. Fat-free milk destroys the beneficial effects of having carotenoids in milk.
Carotenoids Are Antioxidants
Carotenoids act as powerful antioxidants. Antioxidants are vital as they neutralize free radicals. Usually, oxygen atoms occur in pairs, such as water (one hydrogen and two oxygen atoms).
A single oxygen atom that floats around our bodies can cause damage to our cells because it reacts with other molecules in the cells. These single atoms are known as free radicals. Free radicals occur as a result of various metabolic processes in our bodies.
Research has shown that an abundance of free radicals can cause cancers to develop. We need to consume foods that have antioxidants to neutralize these damaging oxygen atoms. So basically, eating dairy foods and drinking milk will help to fight cancer.
Are There Any Other Dairy Cows With Yellow Milk?
Jersey cows are the cow breed with the highest butterfat content and so, therefore, will have the most yellow milk. Guernsey cows also have a high butterfat content in their milk. They usually have around 5% butterfat. Therefore, Guernseys have yellow-colored milk, although it may not be quite as yellow as a Jersey cow's milk. Brown Swiss cows have 4% butterfat. Their milk is usually off-white or creamy-colored.
Variation In Milk Color of Dairy Cattle
Just as people have different metabolisms, so too do cattle. Some cattle will take up more carotenoids or show a preference for certain grasses or feeds. These cows will have yellower milk than others. Some Jersey cows also produce higher cream or butterfat content than others resulting in yellower milk.
What Is Jersey Milk Used For?
Jersey milk can be used just like any other milk. The milk is more nutrient-rich than other milk, and it is usually the preferred milk for use in making cheeses. The high butterfat content results in better and more flavorful cheeses.
Cheesemakers can make 25% percent more cheese using Jersey milk than when they use the same amount of milk from other cow breeds. Similarly, thirty percent more butter can be made using the same amount of Jersey milk as milk from other breeds.
Holstein cows produce milk with A1 protein, which is responsible for causing dairy intolerance in many people. Jersey cows more commonly produce milk with A2 protein. This protein has been shown to cause fewer gastrointestinal issues when it is consumed.
Jersey Cows Are Easy Keepers
If you consider getting a few cows for a homestead, you cannot go wrong with Jersey cows. They are friendly, amenable cows that are easy to handle. This characteristic is vital as dairy cows must be handled several times a day for milking. They normally calve easily even though they are not as large as Holstein cows.
Jersey cows are popular with dairy farmers as they do not eat as much as larger cows but produce good quality milk that sells at a higher price per liter. Their smaller size means that the dairy farmer can keep more Jersey cows than larger cow breeds on the same property.
Jersey milk is rich, creamy milk that has a distinct yellow color. The color arises because Jersey milk has a much higher butterfat content than the milk from other cow breeds. Butterfat contains carotenoids such as beta-carotene and xanthophylls. Carotenoids are beneficial in that they are building blocks for the production of vitamin A. They are also potent antioxidants and neutralize free radicals reducing the risk of cancer. Jersey milk contains A2 proteins, which are less likely to cause a dairy intolerance.
Koshi, J.H. Factors Affecting The Butterfat Composition Of Milk. https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/10125/53581/CtahrpsCoopExtCirc398.pdf
Scarso, S., McParland, S., Visentin, G., Berry, D.P., McDermott, A., De Marchi, M. 2017. Genetic and Non-Genetic Factors Associated with Milk Color in Dairy Cows. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022030217306483