Use of algae or algal oil rich in n-3 fatty acids as a feed supplement for dairy cattle

J Dairy Sci. 2012 Sep;95(9):5269-5275. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5412.


Fish oil is used as a ration additive to provide n-3 fatty acids to dairy cows. Fish do not synthesize n-3 fatty acids; they must consume microscopic algae or other algae-consuming fish. New technology allows for the production of algal biomass for use as a ration supplement for dairy cattle. Lipid encapsulation of the algal biomass protects n-3 fatty acids from biohydrogenation in the rumen and allows them to be available for absorption and utilization in the small intestine. Our objective was to examine the use of algal products as a source for n-3 fatty acids in milk. Four mid-lactation Holsteins were assigned to a 4×4 Latin square design. Their rations were supplemented with 1× or 0.5× rumen-protected (RP) algal biomass supplement, 1× RP algal oil supplement, or no supplement for 7 d. Supplements were lipid encapsulated (Balchem Corp., New Hampton, NY). The 1× supplements provided 29 g/d of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and 0.5× provided half of this amount. Treatments were analyzed by orthogonal contrasts. Supplementing dairy rations with rumen-protected algal products did not affect feed intake, milk yield, or milk component yield. Short- and medium-chain fatty acid yields in milk were not influenced by supplements. Both 0.5× and 1× RP algae supplements increased daily milk fat yield of DHA (0.5 and 0.6±0.10 g/d, respectively) compared with 1× RP oil (0.3±0.10 g/d), but all supplements resulted in milk fat yields greater than that of the control (0.1±0.10g/d). Yield of trans-18:1 fatty acids in milk fat was also increased by supplementation. Trans-11 18:1 yield (13, 20, 27, and 15±3.0 g/d for control, 0.5× RP algae, 1× RP algae, and 1× RP oil, respectively) was greater for supplements than for control. Concentration of DHA in the plasma lipid fraction on d 7 showed that the DHA concentration was greatest in plasma phospholipid. Rumen-protected algal biomass provided better DHA yield than algal oil. Feeding lipid-encapsulated algae supplements may increase n-3 content in milk fat without adversely affecting milk fat yield; however, preferential esterification of DHA into plasma phospholipid may limit its incorporation into milk fat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / drug effects
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Lactation / physiology
  • Microalgae* / chemistry


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3