Adding Chia and Pumpkin Seeds to Sheep Dairy Diets

Greg Howard
21st April, 2024

Adding Chia and Pumpkin Seeds to Sheep Dairy Diets

Image Source: Rodion Kutsaiev (photographer)

Key Findings

  • In a Mexican study, chia and pumpkin seeds in dairy sheep diets didn't affect their weight or food intake
  • Pumpkin seeds increased milk yield and efficiency; chia seeds boosted milk protein and lactose
  • Both seeds may reduce bad fat and increase good fats in milk, though not conclusively proven
In the quest to optimize the health and productivity of dairy animals, scientists are continually exploring alternative feed ingredients. One such avenue is the inclusion of various seed cakes in the diets of ruminants, which has been shown to potentially benefit both the animals and the dairy industry. A recent study[1] conducted by the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico has shed light on the effects of incorporating chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seed and pumpkin (Cucurbita moschata) seed into the diets of dairy sheep. The research focused on how these seeds affect nutrient intake, digestibility, milk yield, and milk composition when used as part of the animals' feed. Twelve dairy sheep were involved in the study, which utilized a 4 × 3 Latin square design—a statistical method that helps eliminate variability in experimental results. The sheep were divided into groups and fed different diets: a butter-based control diet and two experimental diets containing either chia seeds or pumpkin seeds. The findings were intriguing. Neither chia seeds nor pumpkin seeds altered the live weight or dry matter intake of the sheep, which suggests that these seeds can be included in the diet without negatively impacting the amount of food the animals consume or their body weight. More notably, both seed types improved the digestibility of certain fibers found in plants, which could lead to better nutrient absorption. In terms of milk production, pumpkin seed inclusion was particularly beneficial, leading to an increase in milk yield, fat-corrected milk—a measure of milk production accounting for fat content—and feed efficiency, which relates to the amount of milk produced per unit of feed consumed. Chia seeds, on the other hand, were associated with higher milk protein and lactose yields, both important components for the nutritional value of milk. Another aspect of the study was the milk's fatty acid composition, which is crucial for consumer health. Diets containing either chia or pumpkin seeds appeared to decrease the levels of C16:0, a saturated fatty acid, in milk. Additionally, there was a tendency for an increase in C18:3n6 and C18:3n3, which are types of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are beneficial to human health, although these results were not statistically significant. These findings align with previous studies that have examined the use of alternative protein sources in dairy cow diets. Research[2][3] has shown that high-oil pumpkin seed cake and pumpkin seed cake can replace traditional soybean meal without adverse effects on milk yield or composition, and may even improve antioxidant functions in dairy cows. Another study[4] found that pumpkin seed cake could be used in dairy goats' diets without decreasing milk production or drastically altering milk fatty acid profiles, suggesting its potential commercial or health relevance. The current study expands on these earlier findings by exploring the specific impacts of chia and pumpkin seeds on dairy sheep, a less-studied ruminant in this context. The positive outcomes observed in milk yield and composition suggest that these seeds could be a valuable inclusion in ruminant diets, offering a way to enhance the nutritional profile of milk while maintaining or improving production efficiency. In summary, the research from the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico provides promising evidence that chia and pumpkin seeds are not only viable ingredients for dairy sheep diets but could also lead to improved milk production and healthier milk for consumers. This could have significant implications for sustainable dairy farming practices and the development of dairy products with enhanced nutritional qualities. Further research may help to solidify these findings and explore the long-term implications of such dietary changes.

AgricultureNutritionAnimal Science


Main Study

1) Inclusion of chia seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) and pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita moschata) in dairy sheep diets.

Published 18th April, 2024

Related Studies

2) Replacing soybean meal with high-oil pumpkin seed cake in the diet of lactating Holstein dairy cows modulated rumen bacteria and milk fatty acid profile.

3) Effects of replacing soybean meal with pumpkin seed cake and dried distillers grains with solubles on milk performance and antioxidant functions in dairy cows.

4) Influence of pumpkin seed cake and extruded linseed on milk production and milk fatty acid profile in Alpine goats.

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