The effect of the addition of an essential oil (EO) preparation (containing a mixture of natural and nature-identical EO) on the performance of dairy ewes of the Chios breed was investigated. Eighty lactating ewes were allocated into 4 equal groups in a randomized block design, each with 4 replicates of 5 ewes housed in the same pen. The 4 groups were fed the same total mixed ration allowance, the roughage being a mixture of corn silage, lucerne hay, and wheat straw, and the concentrate based on cereals and oil cakes. Control ewes were fed their daily allowance of total mixed ration without any EO. The other 3 groups were supplemented with EO at levels of 50, 100, and 150 mg/kg of the concentrated feed, respectively. Individual milk yield was recorded daily and feed refusals were recorded on a pen basis weekly during the first 5 mo of lactation. Milk samples were analyzed for chemical composition, somatic cell count, and urea content. Rumen samples were analyzed for pH, NH(3)-N content, and protozoa, cellulolytic, hyper-ammonia-producing, and total viable bacteria counts. Results showed that inclusion of EO increased milk production per ewe, the effect being dose dependent [1.565, 1.681, 1.876, and 2.119 L/d (standard error of the difference ± 0.176) for the control, 50, 100, and 150 mg of EO/kg of concentrate diets, respectively], and thus improved feed utilization. Although the inclusion of EO did not affect milk composition, it lowered urea concentration and somatic cell count in milk samples at the highest supplementation level compared with the control. Total counts of viable and cellulolytic bacteria and protozoa were not influenced by EO supplementation; however, counts of hyper-ammonia-producing bacteria were decreased at the 2 highest supplementation levels compared with the control group. Rumen pH was not affected by EO supplementation, but rumen NH(3)-N was reduced at the highest EO supplementation level, and acetate rumen concentrations tended to decrease and propionate to increase in a dose-dependent manner. In conclusion, EO supplementation may improve feed utilization and performance of the high-yielding dairy Chios ewes; however, the underlying mechanisms leading to this improvement merit further investigation.
Copyright © 2011 American Dairy Science Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.