Which are the best fats, or rather fatty acids, for your herd?

Once you start tugging at the thread of fatty acids, a vast and complicated world of nutritional insight unravels. There are many different fatty acids in nature - and their consequences on dairy nutrition can furrow the brow. Let’s focus on the fatty acids that the dairy cow consumes in greatest quantities and can have the most impact on the productivity of your dairy herd.

Palmitic acid (C16:0) - This saturated fatty acid increases the partitioning of nutrients to milk and is very effective at improving milk fat percentage. Its effects may be most beneficial during mid-late lactation to drive additional nutrients to milk. 

Stearic acid (C18:0) – This saturated fatty acid is produced in large quantities from other unsaturated fatty acids in the rumen. Its digestibility decreases with increasing intake, driving down the digestibility of all fatty acids in the small intestine.

Oleic acid (C18:1) - One of the most abundant fatty acids in nature, oleic acid offers many nutritional benefits. Oleic acid improves digestibility of total fat in the diet, alters partitioning of nutrients to improve body condition and improves fertility. Higher levels will be most beneficial during early lactation. Must be supplied in rumen-protected form to avoid losing its effects due to changes in the rumen (e.g. Megalac supplies rumen-protected C18:1).

Linoleic acid (C18:2) - This is an omega-6 fatty acid and the most common fatty acid consumed by most dairy cows. No specific requirements for supplementation. Excess C18:2, with particular rumen conditions, can lead to milk fat depression.

Linolenic acid (C18:3) – This is an omega-3 fatty acid closely involved in improving embryo survival and improving fertility and most appropriate during the earlier stages of lactation. Must be offered in rumen-protected form to maintain its effectiveness.

Where can you find these fats?

All the fatty acids that are beneficial for dairy cow productivity can be found - in varying amounts - as ingredients in common feed ingredients. Palm oil, for example, is high in palmitic acid, while rapeseed oil is high in oleic acid. Meanwhile, you can find high amounts of linolenic acid (omega-3) in linseed and ryegrass. (Here’s a chart showing a breakdown of the fatty acids present in common feed ingredients.)

These fatty acids can have a major impact on milk production, milk fat percentage and fertility. The challenge is making sure your dairy herd receives the right amount of these fats. Without the correct intake of the correct fatty acids, you won’t see the benefits.  

How do you reap the benefits from beneficial fatty acids?

It’s likely that your regular dairy feed already contains a proportion of some of the beneficial fatty acids that cows need. But does it contain enough? Dairy cows typically need more dietary fat than you might think - especially during early lactation. But thanks to the way the rumen processes fats, overfeeding the wrong kind of fat could do more harm than good.  

>> How to maintain a healthy rumen in dairy cattle

You can enhance the productivity of your herd with fats. The key is feeding the right fats, at the right time, without impacting regular rumen function. And that’s where fat supplements come in.

Volac Wilmar is a leading voice in dairy cow nutrition and has developed a range of rumen-protected fat supplements that are uniquely formulated to help your herd improve milk production, increase body condition and enhance fertility - with proven results that are backed by research.

Good for your herd, even better for your bottom line.

Over to you...

Uncertain of where to start your search for the ideal fat supplements? Right here.

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