Effect of Supplementing Essential Fatty Acids to Pregnant Nonlactating Holstein Cows and Their Preweaned Calves on Calf Performance, Immune Response, and Health

J Dairy Sci. 2014;97(8):5045-64. doi: 10.3168/jds.2013-7473. Epub 2014 Jun 13.


The objective was to evaluate the effect of supplementing saturated or unsaturated fatty acids (FA) during late gestation of cows and during the preweaning period of calves on growth, health, and immune responses of calves. During the last 8wk of pregnancy, Holstein cattle (n=96) were fed no fat supplement (control), a saturated FA (SFA) supplement enriched in C18:0, or an unsaturated FA supplement enriched in the essential FA linoleic acid. Newborn calves were fed a milk replacer (MR) with either low linoleic acid (LLA; coconut oil) or high linoleic acid (HLA; coconut oil and porcine lard) concentration as the sole feedstuff during the first 30d. A grain mix with minimal linoleic acid was offered between 31 and 60d of life. At 30 and 60d of life, concentrations of linoleic acid in plasma were increased in calves born from dams supplemented with essential FA compared with SFA (44.0 vs. 42.5% of total FA) and in calves consuming HLA compared with LLA MR (46.3 vs. 40.8% of total FA). Total n-3 FA concentration was increased in plasma of calves fed HLA compared with LLA MR (1.44 vs. 1.32%) primarily due to increased α-linolenic acid. Prepartum supplementation with SFA tended to improve dry matter intake (48.8 vs. 46.7kg) and improved average daily gain (0.50 vs. 0.46kg/d) by calves without affecting efficiency of gain or circulating concentrations of anabolic metabolites or hormones. Increasing mean intake of linoleic acid from approximately 4.6 to 11.0g/d during the first 60d of life increased average daily gain (0.50 vs. 0.45kg/d) without a change in dry matter intake, thus improving feed efficiency (0.63 vs. 0.59kg of gain/kg of dry matter intake). Improved weight gain in calves fed HLA MR was accompanied by increased or tendency to increase plasma concentrations of glucose (92.7 vs. 89.9g/dL) and insulin-like growth factor I (59.5 vs. 53.2g/dL), increased hematocrit (36.0 vs. 34.4%) and concentration of blood lymphocytes (4.61 vs. 4.21×10(3)/μL), lowered plasma concentrations of acid-soluble protein (78.8 vs. 91.3mg/L) and blood platelets (736 vs. 822×10(3)/μL), and increased production of IFN-γ by peripheral blood mononuclear cells at 30d of age (48.1 vs. 25.6pg/mL), possibly indicating an earlier development of the immune system. Partial replacement of coconut oil with porcine lard in MR improved calf performance and some aspects of immunity.

Keywords: calf; growth; immunity; linoleic acid.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Blood Platelets / metabolism
  • Cattle
  • Coconut Oil
  • Diet / veterinary*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Essential / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / blood
  • Female
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / genetics
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Interferon-gamma / blood
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Milk / chemistry
  • Plant Oils / administration & dosage
  • Pregnancy
  • Proteins / metabolism
  • Weight Gain


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Essential
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Insulin
  • Plant Oils
  • Proteins
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Coconut Oil
  • lard