Invited review: Palmitic and stearic acid metabolism in lactating dairy cows

J. R. Loften, J. G. Linn, J. K. Drackley, T. C. Jenkins, C. G. Soderholm, A. F. Kertz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Energy is the most limiting nutritional component in diets for high-producing dairy cows. Palmitic (C16:0) and stearic (C18:0) acids have unique and specific functions in lactating dairy cows beyond a ubiquitous energy source. This review delineates their metabolism and usage in lactating dairy cows from diet to milk production. Palmitic acid is the fatty acid (FA) found in the greatest quantity in milk fat. Dietary sources of C16:0 generally increase milk fat yield and are used as an energy source for milk production and replenishing body weight loss during periods of negative energy balance. Stearic acid is the most abundant FA available to the dairy cow and is used to a greater extent for milk production and energy balance than C16:0. However, C18:0 is also intimately involved in milk fat production. Quantifying the transfer of each FA from diet into milk fat is complicated by de novo synthesis of C16:0 and desaturation of C18:0 to oleic acid in the mammary gland. In addition, incorporation of both FA into milk fat appears to be limited by the cow's requirement to maintain fluidity of milk, which requires a balance between saturated and unsaturated FA. Oleic acid is the second most abundant FA in milk fat and likely the main unsaturated FA involved in regulating fluidity of milk. Because the mammary gland can desaturate C18:0 to oleic acid, C18:0 appears to have a more prominent role in milk production than C16:0. To understand metabolism and utilization of these FA in lactating dairy cows, we reviewed production and milk fat synthesis studies. Additional and longer lactation studies on feeding both FA to lactating dairy cows are required to better delineate their roles in optimizing milk production and milk FA composition and yield.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4661-4674
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Body condition
  • Milk fat
  • Milk production
  • Palmitic acid
  • Stearic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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