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Dairy Corner: Don’t overdo palm fat in dairy cattle rations

Palm fat can help increase milk fat, but more isn’t necessarily better

There has been an explosive use of palm fat in many dairy diets.

This growth has been fuelled by the numerous incentive days issued by milk marketing boards to increase milk fat production in lactating dairy cows.

On the plus side, I see a profitable milk fat increase on many farms because some bypass palm fat was fed. I have also witnessed the dark side of feeding bypass fat. Therefore, I recommend producers check their current lactating dairy diets and assure all essential nutrients are well balanced, so the right amount of palm fat can be supplemented.

Dairy producers who buy commercial bypass palm fat should agree. They tend to follow the suggested feeding rate of adding “up to 500 g/head/day” of rumen bypass palm fat to their lactating dairy TMRs. Many of these people have increased herd milk fat by 0.2-0.4 per cent. This advice also seemed to fit into their feed budget by adding about a $1 per head per day to feed costs.

Their success of adding palm fat to lactating dairy diets makes a lot of sense. That’s because milk fat is made up of all different types of fatty acids, although some are more important than others. About 50 per cent of milk fat composition comes from four- to 16-carbon fatty acids chains manufactured in the udder that is supplied by volatile and other types of fatty acids produced by microbial fermentation of feed digested in the rumen. The other 50 per cent milk fat portion is drawn from fatty acids absorbed directly from the bloodstream.

Blood-drawn fatty acids in milk fat are primarily made up of longer 16- to 18-carbon fatty acids. This fact is backed up research, which infused C16:0 free fatty acids into the udder and elicited a milk fat response, because the C16:0 free fatty acids are transferred into milk fat with greater efficiency compared to other fatty acids of different chain lengths. It is here where rumen bypass palm fat is a natural choice to raise milk fat production because of its naturally high C16:0 content.

If only we could shake a palm tree and feed the fallen palm kernels as a source of C16:0 free fatty acids to high-producing dairy cows. Unfortunately, it does not work that way. Rather, raw palm oil must be rendered, fractioned and filtered; the solid saturated fats are separated and turned into commercial beads, prilled or flaked free-fatty acids.

Now as usable palm fat, it can be added directly into the lactating dairy diet. Due to its high melting point of 57 C, processed palm fat easily bypasses the rumen and is digested in the small intestine of the dairy cow. Their C16:0 fatty acid chains are absorbed into the bloodstream, transported to and then drawn off by the udder and finally made into milk fat.

A typical analysis from a bag of commercial rumen bypass palm fat is as follows:

In order to feed palm fat to lactating dairy cows, the general rule is to take in account all the natural and added sources of vegetable oil and tallow already present. Then add in palm fat while making sure not to exceed five to six per cent total fat of the entire dairy diet.

It is best to break the dairy diet down into three sections:

  • 23 kg of dry matter feed: forages mixed with defatted proteins (soybean or canola meal) and grains contains three per cent natural 
fat — 690 g.
  • Supplement vegetable oil or tallow (100 per cent) — 300 g.
  • Supplement palm rumen-protected fat (99 per cent) — 400 g.

Total = 1.39 kg or 5.9 per cent total fat (23.7 kg total diet).

Regardless what brand of palm fat supplement is added to the diet, it is important to avoid overfeeding all dietary fat in one capacity or another. Dairy diets need to balanced with available non-structural carbohydrates such as sugar, starch and effective forage fibre (20-22 per cent eNDF) in the diet as well as protein, minerals and vitamins in order to support health and normal activities of the resident microbes in the rumen.

By following these simple guidelines, the right amount of palm fat can be added almost every time. I also believe adding any type of rumen bypass fat including palm fat should complement the rest of the dairy diet, rather than just focusing upon raising milk fat yield. Nutrition sense contributes to the overall profitability of the dairy barn.

About the author

Columnist

Peter Vitti is an independent livestock nutritionist and consultant based in Winnipeg. To reach him call 204-254-7497 or by email at [email protected]

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