Dr. Richard Kirkland, Global Technical Manager at Volac Wilmar, explains why rumen-protected fats were developed for dairy cows, and why they are so beneficial to helping you meet your on-farm targets.

“Fat has long been viewed as a critical nutrient in dairy rations and a key source of energy. But emerging research is showing it has the potential to make a much more significant impact.”

After watching this episode, you’ll understand everything you need to know about:

  • The role of rumen-protected fats, the difference between ‘fats’ and ‘fatty acids’.
  • The benefits of rumen-protected fats VS liquid oils in the rumen.
  • The key fatty acids – palmitic (C16:0) and oleic (C18:1) - and their impact on dairy cow productivity.
  • What research data from Michigan State University, USA, reveals about the specific nutritional effects of particular fatty acids.
  • The multiple benefits of feeding rumen-protected fats to dairy cows e.g. higher energy density without risk of acidosis.


This is the first of a 5-part series covering the topic, ‘Why Feed Fats?’, which explores the positive impact of feed fats on everything from herd productivity to reducing heat stress and lowering methane emissions.

Watch the video now, or scroll down to read the full transcript.

Feed Fats Campaign, Episode 1

Why Feed Fats, Dr Richard Kirkland''I'm Richard and I'm Technical Manager here at Volac Wilmar Feed Ingredients. Welcome to our new video series on ‘Why Feed Fats’.

We'll be looking at a number of topics such as what are rumen-protected fats and fatty acids, how we can use fat nutrition to reduce the negative effects of heat stress in dairy cows, and how we can use different fatty acid supplements to influence the properties of dairy products that are manufactured from milk from farms, and a number of other topics.

Fats are very energy dense, but the problem with adding lots of liquid oils into rations to increase energy density is it can cause a significant reduction in fibre digestibility and a severe depression in milk fat.

So, the benefit of rumen-protected fat, and why they were developed, was to allow farmers to increase the energy supply and the energy density of the ration, without those negative effects on fibre digestibility - and without those severe negative effects on milk fat that we will see otherwise when we don't use rumen-protected fats.

When we add liquid oils or high fat ingredients to a dairy ration, that can cause an oil slick type of effect in the rumen, which can really reduce fibre digestibility and cause milk fat depression. The benefit of rumen-protected fats is that they are not soluble in the rumen - they will stay in a solid state and pass into the small intestine, where they then can be digested and absorbed in the small intestine.

What we call fat is actually composed of a number of different fatty acids, and it's actually the fatty acids that we're interested in within the fat supplement. There’s a different blend of fatty acids within a particular type of supplement which will actually influence the type of response you get when we feed those supplements to dairy cows.

The two main fatty acids that we're interested in for dairy cow nutrition are palmitic and oleic acids, and those two fatty acids have very distinct and different effects. In simple terms palmitic acid is an excellent milk fat booster, and will stimulate milk fat production, whereas oleic fatty acid that we get in a supplement like Megalac, for example, is very effective at increasing fat digestibility, which will increase the energy supply from the basal diet.

It will help to increase the body condition score of the animals through effects on the insulin hormone status in the animal, and also it will improve the development of fertilised eggs, which will help to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy.

As you can see on the screen at the minute, these are data from Professor Lock's group at Michigan State University. You can see very clearly that as dairy cows consume higher and higher proportions of palmitic acid (C16:0), more and more of that energy is partitioned to milk, and particularly in the form of milk fat, whereas we see a very opposite effect when cows consume increasing levels of oleic acid (C18:1), where more and more energy is, partitioned into body fat, and therefore cows get into better body condition as they consume more oleic acid.

The key benefits with adding rumen-protected fats to dairy cow diets are really to allow the farmer to increase the energy density of the diet and the energy supply to the dairy cows, but crucially, it allows that extra energy supply to be delivered without adding to the acid load in the rumen, which we would get if we were to increase the energy density using starchy cereals, for example.

The actual response that we get from a particular rumen-protected fat will depend very much on the actual fatty acid profile of the supplement in terms of the palmitic and oleic blends. The higher palmitic products will deliver a higher response in milk fat production, whereas the higher oleic products will help with fat digestibility, cow fertility and body condition score.

So, that's all for episode one. But join us again for episode two, where we’ll look at how we can use different types of fatty acid supplement to influence the properties of dairy products that are manufactured from the milk that we deliver from the farm.''