Effects of feeding lauric acid or coconut oil on ruminal protozoa numbers, fermentation pattern, digestion, omasal nutrient flow, and milk production in dairy cows

J Dairy Sci. 2014;97(8):5088-100. doi: 10.3168/jds.2013-7653. Epub 2014 Jun 13.


The objectives of this study were to evaluate the feeding of coconut oil (CO), in which lauric acid (La) comprises about 50% of the fatty acid composition, as a practical rumen protozoa (RP) suppressing agent, to assess whether the source of La affects ruminal fermentation and animal performance and to test whether suppressing RP improves N utilization, nutrient digestion, nutrient flow at the omasal canal, and milk production. Fifteen multiparous Holstein cows (3 fitted with ruminal cannulas) and 15 primiparous Holstein cows (3 fitted with ruminal cannulas) were used in a replicated 3×3 Latin square experiment with 14d of adaptation and 14d of sample collection. Diets were fed as total mixed ration and contained (dry matter basis) 10% corn silage, 50% alfalfa silage, and 40% concentrate. The control diet contained 3% (dry matter basis) calcium soaps of palm oil fatty acids (Megalac, Church & Dwight Co. Inc., Princeton, NJ) as a ruminally inert fat source and had no added La or CO. Diets with La and CO were formulated to contain equal amounts of La (1.3%, dry matter basis). Dry matter intake was not affected by treatment. Both CO and La reduced RP numbers by about 40%. Lauric acid reduced yield of milk and milk components; however, CO did not affect yield of milk and yields of milk components. Both La and CO caused small reductions in total VFA concentration; CO increased molar proportion of ruminal propionate, reduced ruminal ammonia and branched-chain volatile fatty acids, suggesting reduced protein degradation, and reduced milk urea N and blood urea N concentrations, suggesting improved protein efficiency. Lauric acid reduced total-tract apparent digestibility of neutral detergent fiber and acid detergent fiber as well as ruminal apparent digestibility of neutral detergent fiber and acid detergent fiber as measured at the omasal canal; however, CO did not alter fiber digestion. Microbial protein flow at the omasal canal, as well as the flow of N fractions at the omasal canal, did not differ among treatments. Results from this experiment have confirmed that dietary La is not a practical agent for suppressing RP population in dairy cows, mainly because of its negative effects on fiber digestion and ruminal fermentation. Intake of CO appeared to reduce ruminal and improve protein efficiency, but did not improve milk production, milk composition, or increase microbial outflow from the rumen. Based on the results of this study, a 40% reduction of RP population is not sufficient to improve N utilization in dairy cows.

Keywords: coconut oil; dairy cow; protozoa.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Coconut Oil
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage
  • Digestion
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fermentation*
  • Lactation
  • Lauric Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Medicago sativa
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Milk / metabolism*
  • Omasum / metabolism
  • Palm Oil
  • Plant Oils / administration & dosage*
  • Rumen / metabolism
  • Rumen / parasitology*
  • Silage
  • Zea mays


  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fatty Acids
  • Lauric Acids
  • Plant Oils
  • lauric acid
  • Palm Oil
  • Ammonia
  • Coconut Oil