If you’re like me, the term A2A2 was something quite foreign. What is it, and what does it have to do with breeding cows? Apparently, it has a lot to do with breeding cows of the future, and it’s becoming more of a friend than just a passing fad.
The technical definition of A2 milk is milk that is free of the A1 beta-casein. A1 milk has come under scrutiny by many in the medical field, supposedly linking that particular type of milk to health issues such as Type 1 diabetes, heart disease and autism, according to a paper published by New Zealand Professor of Farm Management & Agribusiness, Keith Woodford. His original findings were released in 2007, and since that time, the awareness, and even promotion of A2 milk, has seen tremendous growth in popularity in New Zealand, Australia and parts of Europe.
A2 milk is being touted as “the original milk” and is prevalent in traditional breeds of cows like Guernseys, Brown Swiss, Jerseys, and even water buffalo and zebu. Through numerous studies, New Zealand and Australia milk markets adapted to labeling and bottling A2 milk, and being very successful in selling it. Whether or not it gets proven to be genetically superior milk versus milk that contains both A1 and A2 beta-casein, the bottom line is that some consumers are sold.
Holsteins have stereotypically been A1 milk producers, but that’s where things have changed. With a growing global concern over drinking A2 milk, and an increasing organic market that is asking for this specific labeling, more and more breeders are starting to weigh their options when it comes to selecting for this trait.
All-West Select Sires salesman Jeremy Ettestad works with several customers in Washington who are paying attention to A2 bulls. “To me A2 testing is the next niche market for consumer-friendly milk sales. Even though it’s still in the early stages of proving actual health benefits, people are talking, and that’s enough to spur on some of my customers to want to get a jump on things.”
Allan Cossentine who sells for All-West in central California agrees. “I had a customer who started asking me for A2 bulls in our lineup because he sells cheese at his local farmer’s market. Apparently customers have been asking him, so in turn, he asked me. If it’s going to be important to consumers, I’m glad Select Sires has a lineup of bulls that are not only profitable for dairy producers, but are delivering what the customers want.”
It’s not like the A2A2 bulls that are in the Select Sires lineup are bulls that would compromise one’s breeding program. In fact, that’s much to the contrary. “We have a wide variety of proven bulls available that are A2A2, in fact 39 on the national lineup are designated as such,” explained Vice President of Genetic Programs at Select Sires, Chuck Sattler. “The frequency of the A2 gene is growing in Holsteins as key sire fathers have been/are A2A2 (O-Man, Planet, Observer, Robust, Bookem). We also have a nice variety of high type bulls that fit (Alexander, Atlantic) and even a red bull (Aaron-Red). Whatever dairy producers are breeding for, they can find A2A2 Holsteins that fit their needs.” One of the great things about an increased awareness of A2 milk is that the reliability of breeding for A2 is 100%. An A2A2 bull will transmit the A2 gene 100% of the time. An A2A2 cow bred to an A2A2 bull will result in an A2A2 calf 100% of the time.
But how do you know if your cows produce A2 milk right now? In California, the UC-Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) will perform a verification test. The VGL is certified by the A2 Corporation Ltd to offer a DNA test that will identify animals that carry the A2 beta-casein variant.
In Australia, A2 branded products are highly sought after, and include milk, yogurt, powdered milk, butter and ice cream. While many organic producers there ship to processing plants that are approved to attach the A2 label, it’s not confined to just organic producers.
So the ultimate question then becomes, will A2 milk bottling, milk plants and consumer frenzy grow in the U.S.? Already some Hy-Vee grocery stores in the Midwest sell A2 milk that’s labeled as such. Will more medical evidence be revealed to prove (or not) whether A2 milk is indeed superior? At this point, we just don’t know.
But contrary to much of the early findings published on A2 milk pointing only to a few breeds of dairy cattle that would transmit the gene, Select Sires offers an extensive lineup of Guernsey, Jersey, Brown Swiss AND Holstein bulls that are ready to meet the A2 challenge.“The interest in A2 milk has gone on too long to call it a fad. It’s been around for a long time, and as far as I can tell, interest continues to gradually grow,” said Chuck Sattler.