Received: August 16, 2016; Revised: January 15, 2017. Accepted: February 1, 2017. Published online February 1, 2017.
Objective: A meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate the effects of supplemental fat containing saturated free fatty acids (FA) on milk performance of Holstein dairy cows.
Method: A database was developed from 21 studies published between 1991 and 2016 that included 502 dairy cows and a total of 29-30 comparisons between dietary treatment and control without fat supplementation. Only saturated free FA (> 80% of total FA) was considered as the supplemental fat. Concentration of the supplemental fat was not higher than 3.5% of diet DM. Dairy cows were offered total mixed ration, and fed individually. Statistical analysis was conducted using random- or mixed-effects models with Metafor package in R.
Results: Sub-group analysis showed that there were no differences in studies between randomized block design and Latin square/crossover design for DMI and milk production responses to the supplemental fat (all response variables, p≥0.344). The supplemental fat across all studies improved milk yield, milk fat concentration and yield, and milk protein yield by 1.684 kg/day (p<0.001), 0.095 percent unit (p=0.003), 0.072 kg/day (p<0.001), and 0.036 kg/day (p<0.001), respectively, but tended to decrease milk protein concentration (mean difference = -0.022 percent unit; p=0.063) while DMI (mean difference = 0.061 kg/day; p=0.768) remained unchanged. The assessment of heterogeneity suggested that no substantial heterogeneity occurred among all studies for DMI and milk production responses to the supplemental fat (all response variables, I2 ≤ 24.1%; p≥0.166).
Conclusion: The effects of saturated free FA were quantitatively evaluated. Higher milk production and yields of milk fat and protein, with DMI remaining unchanged, indicated that saturated free FA, supplemented at ≤ 3.5% dietary DM from commercially available fat sources, likely improved the efficiency of milk production. Nevertheless, more studies are needed to assess the variation of production responses to different saturated free FA, either C16:0 or C18:0 alone, or in combination with potentially optimal ratio, when supplemented in dairy cow diets.
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