Improvements in the health and productivity of livestock is key for the future sustainability of farming. The intake and utilisation of nutrients from the diet of the dairy cow plays an important role in maintaining the cow’s health, and the nutrients present within its milk also have important benefits for us as consumers.
This research was aimed at understanding how dairy cow breeding and management strategies can be optimised both for the benefit of the cow as well as for the dairy consumer. Specifically, we aimed to determine how levels of micronutrients (minerals and vitamins) within the cow and within its milk were related, and to establish the role played by diet and genetics.
Although dietary manipulation of micronutrient levels in livestock has been shown previously, there is still a lack of knowledge over the role of genetics and whether this could be exploited to improve nutrient levels to benefit the cow and the consumer through the milk produced.
Our diet not only provides us with the energy needed to survive, but also other essential nutrients and micronutrients that help support health and wellbeing and stave off disease. Micronutrients, consisting of vitamins and minerals, cannot be synthesised within the body, and are required from the diet in small amounts throughout life as they are vital for maintaining normal function and good health.
Milk and dairy products provide us with a number of important micronutrients. For example, they are the principal dietary sources of calcium and iodine, making up to 40%-50% of our intakes. Calcium is required for healthy teeth and bones, whereas iodine is required for thyroid hormone production which is essential for optimum growth, function and physical development at all stages of life. In addition, ruminant products (dairy and beef) are currently the only dietary source of vitamin B12, and vegetarians and vegans can be prone to deficiency of vitamin B12 which can cause anaemia and impair the central nervous system.
In addition, dairy products can also contribute considerably to dietary intakes of a range of other micronutrients such as phosphorous, zinc, magnesium as well as other vitamins (A and B2).