A new study from Virginia Tech looks at the use of algae as a possible feed supplement and source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Currently, fish oil is used as a ration additive to provide omega-3 fatty acids to dairy cows. However, fish do not synthesize omega-3 fatty acids; they must consume microscopic algae or other algae-consuming fish.

"With concerns over fish byproduct supply availability and quality, algae may be a more consistent, readily available source of omega-3 enriched animal feed ingredients," says Jennifer Stamey, Ph.D. candidate at Virginia Tech.

Researchers tested a prototype product with a lipid encapsulation of the algal biomass, which allows omega-3 fatty acids to remain inert in the rumen, avoid biohydrogenation, and be available for absorption and utilization.

The research presented at the American Dairy Science Association Meeting in Denver earlier this summer showed positive signs for algae as a feed supplement. But further evaluation is needed. Here is a look at the research: Four late-lactation Holsteins were assigned to a 4x4 Latin Square design. Their rations were supplemented with rumen-protected algal biomass supplement, rumen-protected algal oil supplement, or no supplement. The 1X rumen-protected algae supplements provided 29 grams per day of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and 0.5X provided half of this amount. Supplementing dairy rations with rumen-protected algal supplements did not affect feed intake or milk yield. Short- and medium-chain fatty acid yields were not influenced by the supplements. But the 0.5X and 1X algae supplements did increase daily milkfat yield of DHA compared with 1X rumen-protected oil. It's important to note that milkfat yield and DHA yield are separate.

"We analyzed milkfat composition, and found increased DHA yield," Stamey says. "So, within the same amount of total milkfat, DHA yield was greater for algae supplements."