Plantain and low N cows can increase health benefits of milk

06 March 2023 | News

Farmers may be able to meet the demand for healthier dairy products while reducing environmental impact, Lincoln University Pastoral Livestock Production Lab research suggests.

The study, authored by Dr Cameron Marshall and Professor Pablo Gregorini’s team, assessed milk from cows that were fed either plantain or ryegrass and selected for low or high milk urea breeding values.

The results suggested the milk produced by cows eating plantain contained a fatty acid profile that could enhance human health, including a better ratio of omega 3 to 6. Plantain-fed cows also produced milk with a particular chemical composition (metabolomics) that has been related to the reduction of stress, inflammation and the growth of cancerous tumours.

Moreover, cows selected for low milk urea breeding values – which are better for the environment as they have great potential to reduce nitrate leaching – also produced milk with healthier fat and a special metabolite potentially related to lowering anxiety.

“These results indicate a great deal about the potential to manipulate the chemical composition of milk for human consumption to produce healthier and more targeted products, while reducing environmental impact – a win-win!” Professor Gregorini said.

However, he suggested that although the results were promising, further research including consumers was needed.

“Nevertheless, if you had the chance to choose, which milk would you want to drink?” he said.

Consumers and producers of animal products are becoming increasingly aware of the intricate connections between the health of the land, animals and humans.

Current research by the Lincoln University Pastoral Livestock Production Lab is evaluating how beef, lamb, venison and milk from different pastures and grazing managements can affect human health. The team is currently running human trials.