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About Flax – Livestock

Livestock & Animal Feed

Flax is unique in its high alpha-linolenic fatty acid (ALA) content. ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid, which contributes to good animal health. Flax is increasingly used as an ingredient in feeds for better animal health and for enriched food products.

Enriched Foods through Flax Feed

Flax contains a large amount of alpha-linolenic fatty acid (ALA). ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid essential to human health. Food experts have found omega-3’s are in short supply in many diets, which has led to the development of foods with more omega-3 fats. Livestock and poultry producers add flax to feed for the production of foods with more omega-3’s, such as meat and eggs.

Flax Feed Industry Guide

The by-product remaining after flax oil extraction – flaxseed meal or linseed meal – is a source of protein used in livestock feeds, especially in the rations of ruminant animals. There has been a renewed interest in using flaxseed and flax oil in animal rations as it can be used to alter the fatty acid composition of egg and meat products and, therefore, provide functional health benefits for the consumer. The purpose of this guide is to provide practical information to users who wish to feed flaxseed to their livestock.

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Egg

The major component of flax, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), heads the omega-3 fatty acid family. The omega-3 fatty acids, and particularly ALA, are recognized contributors to good health in infants and adults. ALA is receiving special attention for its role in heart health. Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from eggs has been reported to reduce blood pressure and serum triglycerides in humans. Researchers have also noted those omega-3 fatty acids decrease platelet activity. (Aggregating platelets contribute to plaque formation in arteries which can lead to coronary artery disease.) In fact, researchers have reported that consuming as little as 800 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from eggs per week significantly reduced platelet aggregation in a human study group. Omega-3 enriched eggs have an important role to play in the diets of consumers and can lead to the prevention of disease. In addition to increasing the ALA content of the diet, some of the ALA elongates in the body into two other omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Therefore, one omega-3 enriched egg provides nearly half of the optimal intake level of ALA, and about one-quarter of the optimal intake level of EPA and DHA. At present, levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the modern human diet are historically low in comparison to those of omega-6 fatty acids. Nutrition experts, including Health Canada, recommend an increase in the intake of ALA to 0.5% of total energy.

People are paying close attention to the foods they eat, modifying their diets to maintain good health. The fat content of the diet is of particular interest to those concerned about heart disease. Health-conscious consumers are looking for food products which contain the important omega-3 fatty acids, and especially alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in which flax is so rich. The fat composition of flax is unique. It contains a very high content of polyunsaturated fat, and 57% ALA. Including flax in the rations of the laying hen alters the fatty acid composition of the egg yolk, increasing its omega-3 fatty acid content. The resulting enriched eggs provide a convenient way for people to improve their omega-3 intake and achieve better health. Using flax as 10 or 20% of a poultry ration can increase the ALA content of egg yolk fat from 0.4% in the ordinary egg to 4.6% and 8.9%, respectively.

When feeding milled flax to laying hens, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in the yolk increases proportionately with increasing dietary inclusion. For example, feeding 5% milled flax yields approximately 8.5 mg/g yolk ALA, 10% yields an average of 16.3 mg/g of yolk, 15% provides about 19 mg/g yolk, and 20% has been reported to provide 30 mg/g of yolk. Accordingly, researchers have reported amounts of ALA as 5.8 and 8.8% of total yolk fatty acids following feeding of 8 or 16% full-fat flax, respectively. Studies also show an increase in yolk docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) following flax supplementation. Several studies have reported DHA yolk content from flax in rations to range between 5-7 mg/g of yolk.

Length of feeding time The incorporation of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) into egg yolk from flax-enriched rations is a gradual process, occurring over several weeks. Researchers have determined egg-yolk fatty acids after 14, 90, and 180 days. Consistent yolk ALA was obtained between 14 and 90 days of feeding. Scientists have reported that yolk ALA, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic (DHA) contents stabilized after four weeks of feeding. Importantly, once the desired yolk omega-3 fatty acid contents are obtained, the dietary supply of omega-3 fatty acid must remain consistent. Researchers reported a 20% reduction in yolk ALA following just one a week of feeding an omega-3 fatty acid-free-ration to previously supplemented hens. Addition of vitamin E Researchers have reported a 2% increase in hen/day egg production when hens fed either typical or omega-3 fatty-acid-rich rations were further supplemented with 50 IU of vitamin E per kg diet. Researchers have reported that excess dietary vitamin E is deposited in egg yolk such that yolks may contain up to eight times the content normally found in an egg. This excess yolk vitamin E could further enhance the nutritional quality of omega-3 fatty acid- rich eggs. The flavour quality of vitamin E/omega-3 fatty acids enriched eggs may also be superior to eggs solely containing enhanced omega-3 fatty acids. Current practice in feed formulation is to stabilize flax with the addition of a tocopherol/ Vitamin E antioxidant at the level of 10 mg/100g of feed.

The opportunity for economic gain from the production of omega-3 fatty acid enriched eggs is significant. As omega-3 enriched eggs offer a taste and quality similar to regular eggs, but with enhanced nutrition, this segment of the egg market should continue to grow. At present, in Canada, omega-3 enriched eggs account for about 15% of the shell egg market. In a consumer survey conducted in Texas in 1994, more than half of those surveyed suggested a willingness to pay more per dozen for these nutritionally enhanced eggs. As consumers become more informed about the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, the popularity of the enriched eggs will become more widespread.

Dairy

Flax contains a large amount of alpha-linolenic fatty acid (ALA). ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid essential to human health. Food experts have found omega-3’s are in short supply in many diets, which has led to the development of foods with more omega-3 fats. Livestock and poultry producers add flax to feed for the production of foods with more omega-3’s, such as meat and eggs.

Several researchers have also looked at adding flax to dairy cows’ diets to alter the fats in the milk they give; however, more research is needed before feeding flax to dairy cattle becomes a commercial reality. Instead of enriching milk through feed, food manufacturers are adding flax oil to dairy products like milk and yogourt to increase the omega-3 content.

DID YOU KNOW? The typical Canadian dairy farm has 68 cows, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Holstein is the most common dairy breed.

For information on enhancing the fat profile of milk and beef, click on links below:

  • Background Information on Key Fats in Milk and Beef – Polyunsaturated fatty acids are those with two or more double bonds in their carbon backbone; they have many vital roles in human health. Dairy and beef producers are interested in increasing the content of two polyunsaturated fats in milk and beef products – namely, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) because these fats are important in human nutrition … more

  • Adding Linseed to Feed Enhances the Fat Profile of Milk – The fact that ruminants digest their food in two stages presents challenges for dairy cattle and goat farmers, the main one being that rumen bacteria cannot easily metabolize some fatty acids, particularly polyunsaturated fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the essential omega-3 fatty acid. Various methods of interfering with the bacterial metabolism of long-chain fatty acids in dairy cattle and goats have been tried… more

Chickens

Feeding hens a poultry feed containing flax is an excellent way to enhance the fat profile of the eggs. Eggs with extra omega-3 fats appeal to consumers who want to balance the fats in their diets.

For information on enhancing the fat profile of eggs, click on the links below:

  • The Novel Egg – Opportunities for Flax in Omega-3 Production – Attemptingto fill a niche market as well as strengthen the healthy image of eggs , poultry research has aimed to develop omega-3-enriched eggs as a way of raising the level of omega-3 fatty acids in consumers’ diets. The success of this research has created an exciting opportunity to incorporate and deliver enriched eggs into the rapidly growing functional food market and onto the plates of today’s health-conscious consumers… more

  • Producing Omega-3 Enriched Eggs – In recent years, researchers and egg producers have worked together to improve the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) content of eggs by incorporating omega-3-rich foods like flax seed into the laying hen diet…more

  1. Philips T. U.S. Pet foods sales go boom.. Rockford, IL: Watt Publishing Co. 2007:9:11. p 23.

Equine

Many horse breeders and owners add milled, cooked or soaked flax seeds, or flax supplements or treats, to equine diets, especially if the horses are not fed on pasture for much of the year. The balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in flax is important for horse health. Due to its high alpha-linolenic content, flax can eliminate dull, dry coats in animals, and the itching and scratching that can accompany them. Flax can also prevent colic in horses.

Beef

Flax in cattle feed can improve the health of animals and boost healthy fats in the products.

The use of flax (called linseed in the feed industry) is being studied as a way to improve the immune systems in calves. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids to cattle may be in preventing young animals from developing infections. Similarly, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s multidisciplinary team at the Dairy and Swine Research and Development Centre in Lennoxville, Quebec is studying reproductive and milking performance in animals on flax-enhanced rations. Research has shown flax in dairy cow rations has increased conception rates.

Adding flax to cattle feed can also increase the content of healthy fats in meat and dairy products. These products provide consumers with foods that can have a healthier fat profile, and taste good. Such food choices appeal to all health-conscious consumers.

For information on enhancing the fat profile of beef, click on links below:

  • Background Information on Key Fats in Milk and Beef – Polyunsaturated fatty acids are those with two or more double bonds in their carbon backbone; they have many vital roles in human health. Dairy and beef producers are interested in increasing the content of two polyunsaturated fats in milk and beef products – namely, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) because these fats are important in human nutrition … more

    Adding Linseed to Feed Enhances the Fat Profile of Beef – Several approaches have proven successful in protecting polyunsaturated fatty acids from biohydrogenation in the rumen. These methods have achieved favourable changes in the fatty acid content of beef… more

Hogs

The Flax Council has been involved in feeding trials in farrowing sows for improved pig production. Notably, flax rations improved sow fertility, allowing sows to be bred more quickly after weaning, and thereby increased the total number of piglets born over a span of three pregnancies. In addition, piglets born to sows on flax were shown to be heavier and healthier, with a lower mortality rate.

Flax Council of Canada

The Flax Council of Canada is a national organization which promotes Canadian flax and flax products for nutritional and industrial uses in domestic and international markets.