A group of close-up dry cows are at Diane Helt’s dairy farm near Dane, Wis. Rather than dumping unused colostrum down the drain, extra colostrum at Helt Dairy is sold for use in animal health and human health products.
A group of close-up dry cows are at Diane Helt’s dairy farm near Dane, Wis. Rather than dumping unused colostrum down the drain, extra colostrum at Helt Dairy is sold for use in animal health and human health products. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

    DANE, Wis. – Rather than dumping unused colostrum down the drain, Diane Helt has been selling it.
    “Our calves come first,” Helt said. “We feed them our best quality colostrum before selling any excess.”
    For the past five years, Helt has sold colostrum as a way to make additional income for her 1,000-cow dairy near Dane, Wis. Helt farms with her husband, Dale, and their three sons, Devin, Derek and Dean.

    Two to three cows calve daily on Helt’s dairy. Colostrum not needed for calves is frozen and sold for use in animal health and human health products.  
    Using the Brix scoring system to rate colostrum quality, Helt only feeds colostrum with a reading of 22 or higher to her calves. Helt will sell both first and second colostrum depending on the Brix score and the farm’s supply and demand.
    “We feed first colostrum to the calf,” Helt said. “Anything left over from that first milking is put in a pail marked with the date produced and Brix score and stored in the refrigerator in case we need it for our own calves. If we don’t use it within two days, we freeze it for selling.”
    Helt participates in a program started by La Belle Colostrum – a division of Pantheryx Colostrum Holdings. The company buys first and second postpartum milk from dairy farms all over the United States to use in a variety of health-related products, including products that address diarrhea in developing countries. Also carried by major retailers across the U.S., DiaResQ is made from bovine colostrum to provide rapid diarrhea relief in adults and children as young as 1 year of age.

    “We collect colostrum from dairies of all sizes, from those milking 100 cows all the way up to 10,000 cows,” said Heather Haschke, producer relations manager at La Belle Colostrum. “All dairies are different in the volume they provide, but the average is between 1 and 3 gallons per cow.”
    Farmers can part with as little or as much colostrum as they want – no minimum quantities are required. Colostrum is stored in 4-gallon pails, and colostrum from different cows and different milkings can be mixed together. The colostrum must meet basic quality requirements, such as containing immunoglobulin (IgG) levels of 15 or greater and be free of straw, flies and other debris.
    “We do not accept bloody colostrum, or colostrum from a cow injected with antibiotics,” Haschke said. “However, dry-treating and teat sealing are OK.”
    Helt’s cows are milked twice a day in a double-22 parlor.
    “Whether we’re feeding the colostrum to our own calves or selling it, we harvest colostrum the same way, so there’s really no extra work involved. Actually, [the company] does all the work. They supply the freezers and the pails for storing the colostrum, and they come pick it up when our freezer is getting full.”
Helt said putting the colostrum in the freezer is more convenient than dumping it down the drain. The freezers are located near the farm’s milk room, making it easy to transfer leftover colostrum to the freezer.
    “In the past, we were dumping lots of good colostrum down the drain,” Helt said. “That’s such a waste. Now, we have the flexibility to sell the colostrum we don’t use.”  
    Helt currently sells 15 pails per month on average or one freezer-full.  
    “We previously sold higher quantities before we started raising Angus beef calves,” Helt said. “Now we’re using more of the colostrum ourselves.”
    Helt views the colostrum program as a way to give back.
    “The extra cash is nice,” Helt said, “but we don’t do it for the money. It’s a good opportunity, especially for a larger herd that has more colostrum than it can use. Why dump it down the drain when it could go to help someone else?”
    Steve Case, owner of Pine View Dairy near Janesville, Wis., has been a part of the colostrum program for approximately eight years and sells up to 30 pails per month.
    “Selling our colostrum provides a little added cash income on our family-run farm,” said Case, who farms with his wife, Liz, and son, Craig. “It’s money we can either put into the business or use as fun money.”
    Case milks 150 cows and sells both first and second milk from all fresh animals.  
    “We feed two quarts to new calves and place the balance in the freezer,” Case said. “I just text the driver when the freezer is about half full, and he comes and picks it up. It’s really convenient. They bring us all the pails, washed and cleaned.”
    With 20 cows freshening every day, Joe Statz, who farms near Sun Prairie, Wis., has lots of colostrum to spare. Statz milks 4,500 cows and sells more than 100 pails of colostrum per month.
     “We started selling our extra colostrum last November,” said Statz, who farms with his sons, Zach and Austin, and his cousins, Troy and Wes Statz. “We feed the first milking to our calves and sell second milkings from all fresh cows. [The company] is very cooperative and easy to work with. When they said how much money they would give us per gallon, I was like, ‘Wow, we’ll take that’. Anything extra helps, and if you have quite a few cows, it’s really worth the while.”
     Finding a new home for surplus colostrum can benefit dairy farmers during tough economic times. Depending on the volume sold, Haschke said farmers can earn an average of $10-$15 per cow.
    “For years, we used to just take this milk and throw it down the drain,” Case said. “Now, we’re getting paid for it and helping the community at the same time. It just makes sense.”