Dairy farmers know that cows grazing on fresh pasture in the summer months produce healthier milk, but during the winter, when cattle are fed conserved feed, the quality drops. Thanks to pioneering research at Aberystwyth University farmers could reduce their reliance on oil supplements to improve the quality of the milk and feed their animals a more natural and affordable winter food.

Image by: Wax, Portugal

Scientists at Aberystwyth’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) are working with supermarkets and animal feed manufacturers to develop the winter supplement that they hope will enable farmers to produce quality milk all year round.

With heath conscious consumers increasingly demanding that supermarkets sell milk with higher levels of beneficial unsaturated fatty acids, the pressure is on for the big five to move away from synthetic animal feeds. DR M Lee

Unsaturated fats have been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers in humans.  This has prompted one high street retailer to announced payment incentives to farmers who achieve lower fat levels in their milk.  Dr Michael Lee (pictured) who is leading the project at Aberystwyth said: “The technology we have developed is novel, meets an industry need and promises economic benefits to feed manufacturers, dairy farmers and retailers.”

Once the technology to manufacture compounds produced by grazed grass have been proven in the laboratory the scientists plan further research to test whether the cows fed on their new natural supplements produce milk with the desired levels of unsaturated fatty acids.

Alun Davies, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and European Programmes, said:
 “This is an excellent example of how industrial collaboration between higher education and industry could turn research into commercially viable products that boost production and improve the quality of the produce for the consumer.”

At the moment, to produce milk with high levels of healthier unsaturated fatty acids, farmers currently use expensive oil-based feed supplements.  If the project, that has the backing of the Welsh government, is successful it will not only provide better milk for consumers, but a much needed boost for dairy farmers and feed manufacturers.  Scientists are also considering research into using Premium milk in other dairy products such as butter and cheese.