On-farm feeding trials show benefit of essential fatty acids

Editor's note: The following case was handled by George Jarrett, owner of Cows Come First in Batavia, N.Y.

A dairy producer in western New York State wondered how he could improve the immune function in his early-lactation cows.

Improved immune function, he reasoned, would lead to better health among his cows, better morale among his employees, and improved profitability for the farm.

One of the strategies involved nutrition.   

Specifically, the producer wanted to know if adding essential fatty acids to the diet would help the cows, so he asked nutritionist George Jarrett to help set up an on-farm trial.

The producer's question was this: Can we design a protocol to actually measure an improvement in the ability of the cow to naturally fight disease, particularly through the transition period?  

The producer runs a management service for six other dairies in western New York. In addition to selecting his own farm for a feeding trial, he chose one of his client farms.    

The trials ran for nine months ― from late December 2011 through September 2012.

At the producer's own farm ― the farm where George Jarrett serves as nutritionist ― there was a small bump in milk yield over the course of the trial and not much change in components. But there was a substantial improvement in early embryonic death loss, Jarrett says. Not that the farm had a big problem to begin with ― it was close to industry standards for embryonic loss when the trial started ― but things got even better. And somatic cell count improved, as well, dropping from the 200,000-to-240,000 range to around 160,000. That told Jarrett that the animals" immunity had improved and they could do a better job fighting off disease.

Again, the trials were to assess the effect of a commercial product containing essential fatty acids.

Not all products with essential fatty acids are the same, Jarrett points out. "All fat is not created equal," he adds, so it is important to pay close attention to the fatty acid composition of the different commercial products.

The feeding trials were a great opportunity ― "great for the dairyman and great for me," Jarrett says. The dairyman was able to improve animal health and profitability and Jarrett learned some things that he can now share with his other farm clients.

"I'm spoiled," Jarrett says, reflecting on the excellent producers that he works with.