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Babcock Institute for International

Dairy Research and Development Dairy

University of Wisconsin-Madison


Michel A. Wattiaux
Babcock Institute
Ric R. Grummer
Department of Dairy Science

TYPES OF LIPIDS structure similar to the triglycerides except

Usually, the diet eaten by cows contains that one of the three fatty acid has been
only 2 to 4% lipids. However, lipids are an replaced by a sugar (usually galactose).
important part of the ration of dairy cows When one of the fatty acids is replaced by a
because they contribute directly to about phosphate bound to another complex
50% of the fat in milk and they are the most structure the lipid is referred to as
concentrated source of energy in feed. phospholipid. Phospholipids are minor
Only small amounts of lipids are found in components in feedstuffs, but they are
forage and seed. However, some plants found in a high concentration in ruminal
(cotton, soybean) have seeds referred to as bacteria.
oilseeds that contain more than 20% lipids. Common fatty acids found in plant lipids
Lipids are usually extracted from oilseeds range from 14 to 18 carbons (Table 1). The
which may be used unextracted in diets of melting point determines whether a lipid is
cows. in a liquid or a solid form at room
Lipids are substances which are water temperature. Melting point is influenced
insoluble, but are soluble in organic primarily by the degree of saturation and to
solvents (ether, chloroform, hexane, etc.). a lesser extent by the length of the carbon
Triglycerides are found primarily in cereal chain. Plant lipids typically contain 70 to
grains, oilseeds and animal fats. The basic 80% unsaturated fatty acids and they tend
structure of triglycerides consist of one unit to remain in the liquid state (oils). On the
of glycerol (a 3 carbon sugar) and three other hand, animal fats contain 40 to 50%
units of fatty acids (Figure 1). saturated fatty acids and they tend to
Glycolipids form a second class of lipids remain in the solid state (fats). The degree
found primarily in forage (grasses and of unsaturation has a marked effect on how
legumes). These compounds have a well it is digested by an animal and, in the
case of ruminants, whether or not it
interferes with the fermentation of
Glycerol Fatty Acids Triglycerides
carbohydrates in the rumen.
H2 C OH OH C R1 H2 C O C R1
O O In the rumen, the majority of the
H2 C OH OH C R3 H2 C O C R3 lipids are hydrolyzed. The bonds
Figure 1: Basic structure of triglycerides. The radicals between the glycerol and the fatty
(R1, R2, and R3) are made of a carbon chain with variable acids are broken down to give rise
lengths and degrees of saturation. to glycerol and three fatty acids.
240 Agriculture Hall, 1450 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706 USA, phone: 608-265-4169, 13
Dairy Essentials – Nutrition and Feeding
Table 1: Common fatty acids found in the diet of dairy cows
Common Melting
Name Structure Abbreviation* point (°C)
................................................ Saturated acids .............................................................
Myristic CH3-(CH2 )12-COOH (C14:0) 54
Palmitic CH3-(CH2 )14-COOH (C16:0) 63
Stearic CH3-(CH2 )16-COOH (C18:0) 70
.............................................. Unsaturated acids ..........................................................
Palmitoleic CH3-(CH2 )5-CH=CH-(CH2)7-COOH (C16:1) 61
Oleic CH3-(CH2 )7-CH=CH-(CH2)7-COOH (C18:1) 13
Linoleic CH3-(CH2 )4-CH=CH-CH2 -CH=CH-(CH2)7-COOH (C18:2) -5
Linolenic CH3-CH2 -CH=CH-CH2 -CH=CH-CH2 -CH=CH-(CH2)7-COOH (C18:3) -11
* The first number denotes the total number of carbons and the second number denotes the number of double
bonds in the molecule.
Glycerol is fermented rapidly into volatile palmitic and stearic acids bound to feed
fatty acids (see carbohydrate metabolism). and microbial particles.
Some fatty acids are used by bacteria for the
synthesis of phospholipids that are needed INTESTINAL ABSORPTION OF LIPIDS
to build cell membranes. Microbial phospholipids are digested in
Another important action of ruminal the small intestine and contribute to the
microbes is to hydrogenate unsaturated pool of fatty acids that are processed and
fatty acids. During hydrogenation, a fatty absorbed through the intestinal wall. The
acid becomes saturated because a double bile secreted by the liver and the pancreatic
bond is replaced by two hydrogen atoms. juice (rich in enzymes and bicarbonate) are
For example, hydrogenation converts oleic mixed with the contents of the small
acid into stearic acid (Table 1). intestine. These secretions are essential to
Free fatty acids in the rumen tend to prepare the lipids for absorption by
attach to feed and microbial particles and forming water miscible particles called
impede normal fermentation, especially of micelles that can enter the intestinal cells.
fibrous carbohydrates. Excess lipids in the In the intestinal cells, a major portion of
diet (more that 8%) may have a negative fatty acids are bound to glycerol (coming
effect on milk production and fat from blood glucose) to form triglycerides.
percentage in the milk. Unsaturated lipids Triglycerides, some free fatty acids,
have a more negative effect than saturated cholesterol and other lipid-like substances
lipids. However, lipids may be "protected" are coated with protein to form
to slow down the rate of hydrolysis and triglyceride-rich lipoproteins (TG-rich LP)
make them more "inert" in the rumen. The also called chylomicrons or very low
seed coat tends to protect lipids within the density lipoproteins. The TG-rich LP enter
seeds and make them less rapidly accessible lymph vessels and flow to the thoracic duct
for ruminal hydrolysis compared to free oil. (the junction of the lymphatic system with
Also, industrial treatments that usually the blood system) where they enter the
involve the formation of soaps (calcium blood system. In contrast to most nutrients
salts of fatty acids) make the fatty acids absorbed from the gastro intestinal tract,
insoluble and thus inert in the rumen. the absorbed lipids enter the general
Microbial phospholipids make up 10 to circulation directly and are used by all body
15% of the lipids leaving the rumen, the tissues without a preliminary processing by
remaining 85 to 90% are saturated free fatty the liver.
acids found primarily in the form of

14 The Babcock Institute

4 - Lipid Metabolism in Dairy Cows


Grains Triglycerides Bacterial Bacterial bacterial

Phospholipids Phospholipids Lipids
Forage Glycolipids
Saturated Saturated
Free Fatty acids Free Fatty acids

Triglyceride rich INTESTINAL
VFA Free Fatty Lipoprotein CELLS
WALL (TG-rich LP)
ich L

(To the liver)

carbohydrate Energy
Glucose Triglyceride
LIVER Ketones storage
Glycerol TG-rich LP

Fatty Acids

TG-rich LP



cer Fatty Acids Glycerol TG-rich LP
ol TG-rich LP Glycerol

Fatty Acids Glucose Fatty Acids Glucose


Glycerol Energy Energy

Glycerol Glycerol
Triglycerides Milk Fat
(Long chains)


Figure 2: Overview of lipid metabolism in dairy cows

University of Wisconsin-Madison 15
Dairy Essentials – Nutrition and Feeding
UTILIZATION OF DIETARY LIPIDS The fat deposited in the liver contributes to
BY THE UDDER development of metabolic disorders (e.g.,
About half the fat in the milk is derived ketosis and fatty liver) in early lactation.
from the uptake of fatty acids by the
mammary gland. These fatty acids come
primarily from the triglyceride-rich Lipids contain about 2.25 times more
lipoproteins formed during the intestinal energy than carbohydrates. Also, lipids are
absorption of lipids. An increase in long sometimes referred to as a "cold" nutrients
chain fatty acids (i.e., acids made of more because during digestion and utilization by
than 16 carbons) in the diet increases their the body they produce less heat than
secretion in milk, but it also inhibits the carbohydrates and proteins. Thus,
synthesis of short- and medium-chain fatty increasing lipids in dairy cow rations may
acids in the mammary tissue. Thus, the have several potential benefits:
marked depression in fat secretion when • Increase the caloric (energy) density of
cows are fed low fiber diets can be the ration, especially when intake may
compensated only partially by increasing be limited as in high forage diet;
fat in the diet. • Limit the need for carbohydrate-rich
concentrates which are usually
THE ROLE OF LIVER AND FAT required in early lactation when a cow
MOBILIZATION is in negative energy balance;
During periods of under feeding or in • In hot weather, lipids may help to
early lactation, cows meet their energy reduce the heat stress of a lactating
demand by mobilizing fat from adipose cow.
tissues to obtain energy in addition to that Feed intake and milk production responses
provided by the diet. Fatty acids coming vary greatly according to the type of lipids
from the triglycerides stored in the adipose added in a diet. Cows should not be fed
tissues (located primarily beneath the hide, more than about 1.5 kg/day of lipids in
in the abdomen and over the kidneys) are addition to the lipids present in feedstuffs.
released into the blood. Mobilized fatty This amount of lipids translates into a total
acids are taken up by the liver where they of about 6 to 8% lipids in the diet before
can be used as an energy source or be negative effects become evident. Milk
converted to ketones that may be released production is maximized when lipids
in the blood and used as an energy source comprise 5% of the dietary dry matter.
by many tissues. The liver does not have a Added dietary fat usually decreases milk
high capacity to form and to export TG-rich protein by about 0.1%. In addition, excess
LP and the excess mobilized fatty acids are lipids may depress feed intake, milk
stored as triglycerides within the liver cells. production and milk fat composition.

16 The Babcock Institute