Dairy cows fed flaxseed will produce more nutritious milk containing additional omega 3 fatty acids and less saturated fat, according to US researchers. Oregon State University scientists fed 10 pregnant cows increasing amounts of flaxseed up to 7% of their daily diet. The aim was to find the optimal quantity of flaxseed that would maximise the amount of omega 3 in milk and other dairy products without negatively affecting their production and texture.
The benefits of flaxseed for cows
“We were looking for the sweet spot,” says lead scientist Gerd Bobe. “Too much of a good thing can be bad, especially when trying to maintain consistency.” Diets high in saturated fat can increase cholesterol and cause heart disease, but those rich in omega 3 and other polyunsaturated fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Traditional cattle feed mixtures of maize, grain, lucerne hay and grass silage result in dairy products with low concentrations of omega 3 and other polyunsaturated fats.
Milk produced during the research was turned into butter and fresh cheese that were tested for texture and nutritional composition. The flaxseed supplement did not affect the volume of milk produced by the cows. The researchers found that feeding cows up to 2,7kg a day of flaxseed improved the fat profile without affecting the production or texture of the milk, butter and cheese.
At this level, saturated fatty acids in whole milk fat dropped 18%, poly-unsaturated fatty acids increased 82% and omega 3 levels rose 70% when compared with feeding no flaxseed at all.
The team also found that the refrigerated butter was softer and less adhesive than non-flaxseed butter, thanks to fewer saturated fatty acids. Although flaxseed is more expensive than traditional cattle feeds, Bobe hopes that it could be an affordable feed supplement for cows as products enriched with omega 3 can sell for a premium at the grocery store.
“Many consumers already show a willingness to pay extra for value-added foods, such as omega 3 enriched milk,” he says.As a bonus, the researchers found that the cows took to the flaxseed readily. “They ate it like sweets,” says Bobe.