Cow's diet makes milk healthier, says study

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Milk, Nutrition

Cows on healthier diets produce milk that is healthier for humans,
says new research, improving our understanding of how dairy
processors could naturally increase the health positioning of their
products.

Dr Bill Wales, of the University of Melbourne, found that cows in Victoria and New Zealand fed on common local pastures, such as perennial ryegrass and white clover, produced milk with higher concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to those cows offered high grain diets.

The result was part of Wales' study on the use of diet to manipulate the levels and composition of fat in milk from dairy cattle.

Conversely, he found there was no practical advantage from the common practice of feeding cows straw to up their fibre intake and supposedly improve the concentration of fats in their milk.

Yet, Wales' research lends new evidence to the idea that dairy processors may be able to add more value to their dairy products, while also maintaining the products' natural image with consumers.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have been linked to a range of health and disease prevention benefits for consumers. A recent US study also found that children with a higher PUFA intake were likely to perform better at mental tasks.

A number of dairy firms have already been trialling new products based on PUFA health claims. For example, the UK's Dairy Crest recently launched its St Ivel Advance milk fortified with omega-3 PUFAs, claiming it can enhance learning and concentration.

Wales' findings now join other international studies that claim a cow's diet can affect healthy fat levels in milk, notably conjugated linoleic acid - thought to hold anti-cancer properties.

Wales said the pastures fed to cows in his study were typical of those found in Victoria and showed that "this diet enables cows to produce milk with up to three times the levels of particular types of healthy fats, compared to those on total mixed rations such as cows in feed lots"​.

He said he was confident that "by feeding pasture-based diets to our dairy cattle we are maintaining a competitive advantage in Australia by producing milk with good health characterisitics"​.

Perhaps the best advantage is the ability to improve products without adding extra ingredients, or 'tinkering', with the end product.

Adding value to dairy staples, like milk, is now a major focus of the world's biggest dairy producers as they look to increase earnings in the sector and compete with private labels.

Yet a recent report by Euromonitor​ emphasised firms must also take steps to preserve the industry's 'naturally healthy' image, which is still a powerful marketing tool among consumers worldwide.

Related topics: R&D, Dairy Health Check, Fresh Milk

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