Dairy cow diets: Transitioning from fats to fatty acids

What we describe as fat is actually composed of individual fatty acids and it is the balance of these different fatty acids which results in a particular response when supplemented to dairy cows,   Ulster bovine nutritionist Dr. Richard Kirkland of Volac Wilmar.
What we describe as fat is actually composed of individual fatty acids and it is the balance of these different fatty acids which results in a particular response when supplemented to dairy cows, Ulster bovine nutritionist Dr. Richard Kirkland of Volac Wilmar.

Volac Wilmar has launched the Fat Feeding Programme, a unique approach for the dairy sector to identify individual fatty acids and their different modes of action.

This helps dairy farmers offer more-finely-tuned diets to improve production efficiency and farm sustainability.

Advice from the programme will be available to those in the agri-sector including ruminant nutritionists and farmers, to help formulate diets for the upcoming season to best-meet farm objectives.

“What we describe as ‘fat’ is actually composed of individual fatty acids and it is the balance of these different fatty acids which results in a particular response when supplemented to dairy cows,” explained Volac Wilmar’s Dr. Richard Kirkland at the programme’s launch.

“However, the majority of diet formulation systems pay little attention to detailed fatty acid nutrition. With new research data becoming available, it is clear that the days of offering ‘fats’ simply as a source of energy and treating all fats the same are gone.

“The dairy sector has transitioned from crude protein to amino acids; it’s now time to stop feeding ‘fat’ and start thinking about individual ‘fatty acids’.”

Jonas de Souza, of Michigan State University’s Department of Animal Science, explained: “The majority of fats in a dairy cow’s diet are made up of five different fatty acids: C16:0 (palmitic); C18:0 (stearic); C18:1 (oleic); C18:2 (linoleic) and C18:3 (linolenic). Each fatty acid has a unique mode of action and potentially a different role to play at different times during the lactation. See table 1.

“New research data from Michigan State University have not only demonstrated the clear effects of C16:0 fatty acids in dairy diets, increasing milk fat % and total milk fat production per day, but also leading to an improvement in fibre digestibility. Our data also indicate a unique effect of C18:1 fatty acid, increasing insulin production and consequently increasing the proportion of energy partitioned to body fat. These results enable us to better tailor our advice on which fats to feed at different stages of lactation.”

Dr John Newbold explained how the Fat Feeding Programme will enable producers to start fresh thinking about fat in the diet.

“From now on diet formulation needs to be all about identifying each fatty acid and its impact on performance. For example, ‘high-C16’ supplements may be inappropriate for early lactation cows as this fatty acid appears to result in loss of body weight, but may be better-suited later in lactation to sustain high levels of milk and milk fat production. In contrast, supplements providing rumen-protected C18:1 may be ideal in early lactation due to the beneficial effects of this fatty acid on insulin, body condition, fat digestibility and fertility.

“The Fat Feeding Programme will ultimately guide producers to finely tune their diets leading to improved milk production, body condition and fertility and the ability to supplement diets to ensure they produce milk more-suited to the requirements of their individual contract.”

He added: “Volac Wilmar manufactures a full range of fat supplements to target specific scenarios at farm level and the Fat Feeding Programme enables us to offer unbiased advice based on latest global research evidence with the product support to back up this advice.”