Eight Holstein cows in a dairy barn at the University of Saskatchewan will consume nearly five tonnes of Camelina meal to see if various inclusions of the diet will produce volumes of fine-tasting milk with healthy Omega3 nutrients.

Rex Newkirk, Chair of Food Processing Technology in the Department of Animal Science and Poultry, University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said two experimental trials are underway to assess Camelina meal as feed for dairy cows.

“The intention is to get Camelina meal approved as feed (by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency), said Newkirk. Results of the two studies will be peer reviewed and submitted to the CFIA. “There is some previous work showing the possible benefits of the fatty acid profile of the milk (from Camelina-fed cows),” he said. Indeed, recent European trials confirmed that concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omega-type fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) rose significantly in milk from animals that were fed Camelina meal. This can produce softer butter and the oil content may convey certain anti-cancer protperties.

Camelina, an oilseed crop rich in Omega3 fatty acids has been approved for use in broiler chicken rations in Canada. A similar CFIA green light for inclusion of Camelina in rations for laying hens in the egg industry is expected shortly.

The oilseed crop has garnered production interest due to its high oil content and unique oil properties for use in bio-based lubricants, polymers and as a unique and valuable feed in aquaculture. About five tonnes of Camelina meal for the U of S trials is being supplied by Smart Earth Seeds, the leading global Camelina enterprise.

The University of Saskatchewan research team is hoping to add to the marketability of Camelina by further demonstrating the crops’ value as dairy feed. Canadian farmers, along with poultry and dairy producers would be economic beneficiaries while all Canadians would enjoy healthier animal products. “Can you imagine a day when all our eggs produced in Canada are healthier with high Omega3 content?” Newkirk said. “It could be the same thing with milk.”

The cows will be fed Camelina rations of zero to 10 percent inclusion in the first trial and zero to 20 percent inclusion in the second trial, he said. Milk fat protein and concentrations of saturated vs unsaturated fatty acid content will be measured by gas chromatograph. The research team will be looking to see if data from recent European trials is replicated. Those trials showed valuable concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omega-type fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) improved significantly in milk from cows that were fed Camelina meal.

Milk production volumes also will be measured to see if Camelina has any impact on milk output. On average, the cows produce 45 kilograms of milk per cow per day. “So far, they seem to really like the Camelina,” said Newkirk.

And then there is the taste test. Trained milk tasters will sample and score the milk for taste in a controlled environment, where air quality and lighting is kept constant.

If the research trials precipitate CFIA approval of the meal for dairy, then Camelina will solidify its place in Canada’s annual grain and oilseed production output of 77 million tonnes – of which about 25 million tonnes is converted to animal feed concentrate.