Open Access Research article

Forage preservation (grazing vs. hay) fed to ewes affects the fatty acid profile of milk and CPT1B gene expression in the sheep mammary gland

Elda Dervishi1, Margalida Joy1, Albina Sanz1, Javier Alvarez-Rodriguez2, Francisco Molino1 and Jorge H Calvo13*

Author Affiliations

1 Unidad de Tecnología en Producción Animal, CITA, Zaragoza, Spain

2 Departament de Producció Animal, Universitat de Lleida, Lleida, Spain

3 Fundación ARAID, Zaragoza, Spain

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BMC Veterinary Research 2012, 8:106  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-8-106

Published: 9 July 2012



Alterations in lipid metabolism occur when animals are exposed to different feeding systems. In the last few decades, the characterisation of genes involved in fat metabolism and technological advances have enabled the study of the effect of diet on the milk fatty acid (FA) profile in the mammary gland and aided in the elucidation of the mechanisms of the response to diet. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of different forage diets (grazing vs. hay) near the time of ewe parturition on the relationship between the fatty acid profile and gene expression in the mammary gland of the Churra Tensina sheep breed.


In this study, the forage type affected the C18:2 cis-9 trans-11 (CLA) and long-chain saturated fatty acid (LCFA) content, with higher percentages during grazing than during hay feeding. This may suggest that these FAs act as regulatory factors for the transcriptional control of the carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1B (CPT1B) gene, which was more highly expressed in the grazing group (GRE). The most highly expressed gene in the mammary gland at the fifth week of lactation is CAAT/ enhancer- binding protein beta (CEBPB), possibly due to its role in milk fat synthesis in the mammary gland. More stable housekeeping genes in the ovine mammary gland that would be appropriate for use in gene expression studies were ribosomal protein L19 (RPL19) and glyceraldehyde- 3- phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH).


Small changes in diet, such as the forage preservation (grazing vs. hay), can affect the milk fatty acid profile and the expression of the CPT1B gene, which is associated with the oxidation of fatty acids. When compared to hay fed indoors, grazing fresh low mountain pastures stimulates the milk content of CLA and LCFA via mammary uptake. In this sense, LCFA in milk may be acting as a regulatory factor for transcriptional control of the CPT1B gene, which was more highly expressed in the grazing group.