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Effect of ewe feeding system (grass v. concentrate) on intramuscular fatty acids of lambs raised exclusively on maternal milk

  • M. A. Valvo (a1), M. Lanza (a2), M. Bella (a2), V. Fasone (a3), M. Scerra (a3), L. Biondi (a2) and A. Priolo (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 09 March 2007

Twenty pregnant Comisana ewes were divided into two groups of 10. One group was allowed to graze a vetch pasture (grass). The second group of animals was housed collectively in a pen and was given hay and concentrates (concentrate). After lambing, all the ewes were allowed to stay with the respective lambs between 18:00 h and 07:00 h of the following day in two different pens. Therefore all the lambs were raised exclusively on maternal milk. The lambs were slaughtered at 38 days of age. Milk and lamb meat (longissimus dorsi muscle) fatty acids were analysed. Ewes on grass produced milk with a lower (P < 0·001) proportion of saturated fatty acids and with a higher proportion of both monounsaturated (P < 0·05) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (P < 0·01) than ewes given concentrates. Trans-vaccenic acid was significantly higher (P < 0·001) in milk from grass-fed animals compared with ewes given concentrates. Linoleic acid (C18: 2 n-6) tended to be higher (P = 0·06) in milk from ewes on concentrates while linolenic acid (C18: 3 n-3) was significantly higher (P < 0·001) in milk from animals grazing pasture. Conjugated linoleic acid (cis-9, trans-11 C18: 2) was almost double in milk from grass-fed ewes compared with animals given concentrates (P < 0·001). Regarding lamb tissue, trans-vaccenic acid (C18: 1 trans-11) was higher (P = 0·01) in the fat from lambs raised by grazing ewes. Linoleic acid (C18: 2 n-6) was at higher concentration (P < 0·001) in the fat from lambs raised by ewes given concentrates. Linolenic acid (C18: 3 n-3) was increased three-fold (P < 0·001) in the fat of lambs from the grass group compared with lambs suckled by ewes given concentrates. The isomer cis-9, trans-11 of conjugated linoleic acid was present at double concentration (P < 0·001) in the fat from animals raised by grazing ewes. Eicosapentaenoic (C20: 5 n-3; EPA) and docosaesaenoic (C22: 6 n-3; DHA) acids were higher (respectively P < 0·001 and P = 0·01) in the intramuscular fat from lambs from the grass group compared with animals from the concentrate group. The n-6/n-3 ratio was lower (P < 0·001) in the meat from lambs raised by grazing ewes. Overall this trial showed that ewe feeding system strongly affects intramuscular fatty acids even in lambs raised exclusively on maternal milk.

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