Recent developments in altering the fatty acid composition of ruminant-derived foods.
The influence of grass-only diets either from rye-grass-dominated lowland pastures (400 m above sea level) or botanically diverse alpine pastures (2000 m) on the FA profile of milk was investigated using three groups of six Brown Swiss cows each. Two groups were fed grass-only on pasture (P) or freshly harvested in barn (B), both for two experimental periods in the lowlands and, consecutively, two periods on the alp. Group C served as the control, receiving a silage-concentrate diet and permanently staying in the lowlands. Effects of vegetation stage or pasture vs. barn feeding on milk fat composition were negligible. Compared with the control, α-linoleic acid (18∶3n−3) consumption was elevated in groups P and B (79%, P<0.001) during the lowland periods but decreased on the alp to the level of C owing to feed intake depression and lower 18∶3n−3 concentration in the alpine forage. Average 18∶3n−3 contents of milk fat were higher in groups, P and B than in C by 33% (P<0.01) at low and by 96% (P<0.001) at high altitude, indicating that 18∶3n−3 levels in milk were to some extent independent of 18∶3n−3 consumption. The cis-9,trans-11 CLA content in milk of grass-fed cows was higher compared with C but lower for the alpine vs. lowland periods whereas the trans-11, cis-13 isomer further increased with altitude. Long-chain n−3 FA and phytanic acid increased while arachidonic acid decreased with grass-only feeding, but none of them responded to altitude. Grass-only feeding increased milk α-tocopherol concentration by 86 and 134% at low and high altitude (P<0.001), respectively. Changes in the ruminal ecosystem due to energy shortage or specific secondary plant metabolites are discussed as possible causes for the high 18∶3n−3 concentrations in alpine milk.