The importance of flax in animal nutrition
Flax oil and meal are recognized as valuable components in animal nutrition. When flax is incorporated as an integral component of animal feed, it improves the health and productivity of the animals themselves, and also leads to healthier food products for humans.
Flaxseed meals can be fed to laying hens as a source of protein and energy. Flax is an intermediate source of protein with a composition very similar to that of canola. It is very similar to canola meal in protein and energy content but tends to be limiting in lysine. The amino acid digestibility is less than that of soybean meal, so it is important to formulate on a digestible amino acid basis. Given the many positive effects of omega-3 fatty acids, many consumers are looking for convenient ways to incorporate them into their diets. Consuming eggs enriched with omega-3 fatty acids is a convenient way to do so.
Omega-3 enriched eggs are produced by laying hens that are fed a diet containing 10% – 20% milled flax. Because flax is higher in the Omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and lower in saturated fatty acids than other grains, the eggs produced are higher in total Omega-3s. Omega-3 eggs look, cook, and taste just like regular eggs, and the total fat content and cholesterol levels remain similar.
Flax products can be fed to swine. Due to recent interest in the production of meat products enriched in omega-3 fatty acids and the potential to improve pig productivity and piglet health, flax products are now being used in swine diets with increasing frequency. It has been hypothesized that the supplementation of pigs rations with omega-3 fatty acids may improve the health status of the animal due to their effects on the immune system. And, like poultry, the fatty acid profile of the meat and fat is directly affected by the source of fat in the diet. Therefore, it is possible to change the fatty acid profile, especially the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, by feeding flax oil or flaxseed to pigs. Omega-3 enriched pork products, produced through the feeding of flaxseed, are now available commercially in both Canada and the United States. These products are gaining in popularity as they not only deliver omega-3 fatty acids into our diet but are also reported to result in a juicier and tastier meat product.
Flaxseed meal can be used effectively as a protein source for beef cattle at all stages of life. It is very palatable with a high protein and energy content and can be used as the sole protein supplement. Similarly, whole fat flaxseed can be used in beef rations as a source of protein, energy and omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed has also been shown to offer additional benefits over its nutritional value alone including increased feed intake in the critical first few days in the feedlot and in some instances reduced incidence of disease (bovine respiratory disease). It is hypothesized that the immune status of the animal is enhanced by the omega-3 fatty acids present in the flax and that they reduce the inflammatory response, therefore, promoting feed intake and the overall well-being of the animals. Feeding flaxseed may also improve carcass quality by increasing the omega-3 content of meat products including both the subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposits.
Flaxseed meal is an excellent protein supplement for use in dairy rations and can be used as the sole protein supplement in the concentrate. It is highly palatable and does not affect dry matter intake. The protein quality for dairy is similar to canola meal and ranks higher than other commonly used protein sources such as soybean meal, brewers dried grains, and feather meal. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve the reproductive performance of dairy cattle. Feeding ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal is a practical and often cost effective way to introduce omega-3 fatty acids into the diet of high producing dairy animals and thereby supplying the much needed energy for milk production.
Flax products are commonly used in horse rations and are often the preferred source of protein. Ground flaxseed and flaxseed meal are thought to impart a glossy coat to the animal due tothe oil content. These products are highly palatable and the mucilage fibre also acts as a mild laxative and helps prevent digestive upset such as colic. Flaxseed oil, ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal can also be used as a source of essential fatty acids in the horse’s diet.
Flaxseed is a preferred source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fibre in pet food products. It has been estimated that the North American pet products industry accounts for 34 percent of flaxseed use, the highest single product category. Flaxseed is popular as anti-allergenic ingredient and is also used in gluten-free pet foods. Forces driving market growth include pet owners’ growing interest in pet products, an ageing and overweight pet population, new products and increased usage of clinically proven supplements by the veterinary community.
Pet owners tend to assume that dietary ingredients which are good for their health are also good for their pets including antioxidants to reduce free radical damage and age related conditions, fibre for digestion and omega-3 fatty acids to improve skin and coat health.