IT HAS taken a decade of work but Tasmanian farmer Geoff Cox has found a way to make milk even healthier.
In what is believed to be a world first, Mr Cox is producing milk naturally enriched with omega-3 fatty acids.
What differentiates Mr Cox’s product is that the milk he produces has enough omega-3 in it to meet Australia’s recommended food standard guidelines.
Mr Cox runs a dairy farm at Ringarooma in the North-East milking 1000 cows and is also involved in another sharefarming operation in the area.
His interest in enriching milk all started about 10 years ago when Mr Cox came across some CSIRO research that looked at changing the fat content in milk.
“It started out just as an interest,” Mr Cox said.
“I was keen to see if there were ways of value-adding milk naturally. You see a lot of companies have tried to add omega-3s afterwards, but it just doesn’t work because essentially you’re trying to add a smelly sort of fish oil to milk.”
Since then Mr Cox has developed Omega Tek, a feed supplement made using food-grade materials that enables cows to produce omega-3 enriched milk naturally.
“What we do is make a specialist product which fits in with everything else we feed,” he said.
“We can just tailor that according to what we need and ramp it up or down.”
The technology focuses on harnessing the cows’ natural digestion processes.
After starting out feeding with the supplement, there is a four-day lead time before the average omega-3 content of the milk increases to sufficient levels.
“What we do is protect the oils from the rumen bugs, because if you feed oils direct to a cow, their rumen will just change it totally and break it all apart,” Mr Cox said.
The omega-3 content for the supplement is sourced from fish oil, plant substances and algae.
Mr Cox said just feeding cows products like fish oil would not only cause animal heath issues, it would also see unwanted trans-fats deposited into the milk.
“Cows can only take so much oil, full stop,” he said.
“Even pastures at some times of the year, rye-grass pastures, can have too much oil in them.
“We protect it so it will go through the first stomach and then it’s released in the second part.
“Once it’s released it’s like a human taking a fish oil tablet at that point. She just digests it normally and a certain amount is transferred into the milk.”
Working out how to get consistent results has taken years of trial and error.
“It was frustrating because we’d get a good result and then a bad result and then we’d have to work out what had changed,” Mr Cox said.
“Now we’ve got it pretty well worked out, so our results are always consistent.”
The amount of omega-3 enrichment does vary between cows, but Mr Cox said they worked on the group average.
“It seems to work better with a high- producing cow because her digestive system is working faster and more efficiently,” he said.
“Generally those cows have a faster flow of food through their rumen, which means there’s less chance of it breaking down.”
Mr Cox said the technology could also allow for the introduction of other beneficial fats such as omega-6 if required.
At this stage, Mr Cox is using Omega Tek to feed a small group of cows supplying milk to Westhaven Dairy, which is using it in a special line of products.
Mr Cox is also in discussions with another company about using the feed to produce naturally enriched milk suitable for infant formula.
Mr Cox said one of the main benefits of the technology was that it does not alter the flavour, texture or shelf life of the milk. It can be processed as normal and used to make other products like yoghurt.
The recommended amount of omega-3 for a healthy diet is 400mg to 500mg a day. Mr Cox’s omega-3 milk will provide about 60mg per serve.
The Omega Tek supplement is made on farm in a specially designed facility. A grant from the Coles Nurture Fund has allowed Mr Cox to upgrade his processing facility with new technology.
Now all the supplement inputs are monitored with a computer-controlled system throughout the process to ensure consistency.
“The grant has really allowed us to go to the next level with consistency and quality,” he said.
Some of the supplement is now being exported to South Korea. Mr Cox said a Japanese company had also expressed some interest
On average the cows in the program on Mr Cox’s farm are fed about 1kg of the supplement as part of their daily ration. While there is some extra cost involved, Mr Cox said the premium prices made up for this.
By: KAROLIN MACGREGOR
Source: Tasmanian Country