Feeding dairy cows a combination of palmitic (C16:0) and oleic acid (C18:1) could help stretch out forage stocks and boost overall performance.

With forage stocks tight on some farms, Mole Valley Farmers' nutritionist, Laura Quinn says feeding a specialist, combination fat, such as Mole Mega-Fat Multi, could help.

“Research from Michigan State University, showed that feeding a combination of palmitic and oleic acid resulted in about a 60g increase in fibre digestion per cow per day. It’s likely that this improvement in fibre digestion is caused by increased growth of fibre digesting bugs in the rumen thanks to the palmitic acid,” she said.

“This improvement in fibre digestibility will ultimately result in more milk from forage.”

Following a challenging growing season in the USA’s mid-west, Dr Adam Lock of Michigan State University undertook a study at the end of 2019 looking at the role of fatty acids in low forage diets.

Forage levels were reduced by almost half, whilst forage NDF (Neutral Detergent Fibre) was dropped from 18-20% to 11%. The gap was made up with higher levels of feeds like beet pulp and soya hulls plus amino acids and palmitic and oleic fatty acid supplementation.

“Cows on the low forage diet ate 18% less dry matter, but gave 1.9kg more energy corrected milk per day and more milk fat and protein. That’s likely due to better NDF digestibilty from the palmitic acid and improved fatty acid digestibilty thanks to the oleic acid,” Ms Quinn explained.

“This trial work was obviously carried out on extremely low levels of forage under research conditions, however it does show that in a low forage scenario, fatty acids can have a positive impact on fibre digestion and help farmers get more from every mouthful of fibre fed."

With that in mind, she urged farmers to speak to a nutritionist to discuss the role of feeding a specialist combination fat, such as Mole Mega-Fat Multi. This is typically fed at 250-600g per head per day and includes a unique blend of palmitic and oleic acids, formulated in response to research carried out by Dr Lock.

His trial work also showed that feeding a palmitic enriched fat (80%) increased dry matter intakes during periods of heat stress, boosting milk and component yields and maintaining body condition.

Heat stress is influenced by a combination of temperature and humidity. This means that temperatures do not need to be that high for a cow to experience heat stress when it’s humid. Dry matter intakes typically start to drop when the temperature humidity index (THI) hits 60 THI2. With that in mind, including fat in the diet means that a cow gets more from every mouthful.

Ms Quinn added: “When you get cows in heat stress, their dry matter intakes drop. It makes sense to feed them an energy dense ration. If each mouthful is high in energy, you’ve got more chance of meeting their energy requirements. Fat digestion also produces less heat in the rumen, versus fibre digestion, which also helps heat stress.”

In general, feeding the combination of palmitic and oleic acids can help support milk fat and yield improvements, whilst also maintaining cow body condition and supporting fertility. Based on a 0.2% increase in milk fat and a 1.5 litre a cow uplift in yield, the supplement can deliver an extra margin of £60 per cow per year, depending on individual milk contracts.