Feeding Flax to Reduce Pregnancy Losses in Dairy Cows

Flax could have an important role in improving reproductive performance in dairy cattle.

Research studies looking at including flax oil in dairy rations in Alberta, BC and Oregon showed “mixed results, but in all three studies we found reductions in pregnancy losses,” explains Divakar Ambrose in the interview below.

Ambrose, a dairy research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta, shared the latest research on including fats in post-partum diets at the Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in Red Deer last month.

While the mechanism is still not clear, evidence shows that consuming alpha-linolenic acid — an Omega 3 fatty acid found in flax — improves chances of embryo survival in the early stages of pregnancy, he explains.

“Modern cows don’t get onto pasture as much. They’re not grazing or consuming as much fresh grass, so they’re not getting enough linolenic acids in their system, so that might be one of the reasons we’re seeing high embryonic losses in dairy cows,” he says, noting a larger research project in Florida involving 1,300 cows fed alpha-linolenic acid from fish meal supports the hypothesis that ALA contributes to reproductive performance.

More from the 2016 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar

As Ambrose explains, the reduction in pregnancy losses in the three studies from consuming roughly two kilograms of flax per day — 750 grams of flax oil — ranged from statistically insignificant to around 65 percent.

The number of cows in each study ranged from 120 to 300, he notes, “but when you look at actual pregnancies, only about 35 percent of the cows would get pregnant, and then out of that you’re seeing losses in the magnitude of 15 to 20 percent. So you’re down to really small numbers, and a lot of times they don’t stand up for statistical rigour.”

Read more about one of Ambrose’ studies on the Alberta Agriculture & Forestry website.

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