Various Oils and Fats as Substitutes for Butterfat in the Ration of Young Calves

By T.W. Gullickson, F.C. Fountaine, and J.B. Fitch

Summary: Cream, which is used to make butter, is a much more valuable product than a refined vegetable oil. As a result, farmers of the mid-twentieth century got in the bad habit of skimming the cream off their milk to make butter for consumers and then combining the skimmed milk with a vegetable oil to feed to their calves. Gullickson and his colleagues report on an experiment in which they fed calves skim milk homogenized with butter, lard, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil. Their findings were what one would expect in replacing a natural, whole food with a refined, processed one: “The results as measured in terms of rate of gain in weight, physical appearance and general well-being of calves indicated clearly the superior nutritive value of butterfat over all the other fats and oils tested.” Practices like the one described here, so longstanding in American food manufacturing that they’re taken as “normal,” go a long way to explain the rampant rates of degenerative disease in the United States. From the Journal of Dairy Science, 1942. Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research reprint 138. 

[The following is a transcription of the original Archives document. To view or download the original document, click here.]

Various Oils and Fats as Substitutes for Butterfat in the Ration of Young Calves

The literature dealing with the value of various fats and oils in nutrition is very extensive, yet but few studies have been reported comparing their feeding value with butterfat for young calves. This fact is rather unusual considering the obvious practical value of such information in relation to economical calf-raising and especially to profitable veal production.

The studies reported have largely been confined to a comparatively few oils and fats, and results have generally been unfavorable. Lindsey,7 using calves several months old, reported generally favorable results from feeding “oleo” at the rate of one ounce per quart of skim milk and mixed thoroughly. He states, “Scarcely any of the calves were able to take more than this amount per quart without disturbing their digestion.” Other products used were corn oil and cottonseed oil, but these could be fed only at the rate of one-half ounce per quart of skim milk “without producing bad effects.” A calf fed a combination of corn oil and cottonseed oil seemed to thrive at first, but later its condition became less favorable, and when slaughtered, the carcass “contained very little fat.” Hendricks5 also reported less growth in calves fed cottonseed oil and skim milk than in those fed whole milk or skim milk and cod liver oil. Leach and Golding,6 using calves 15 to 22 days old, fed pilchard oil homogenized into skim milk. Severe scouring developed, but increases in weight continued during the first week; then their condition became unsatisfactory, and in no case did a calf live more than three weeks. Rats on a similar diet grew satisfactorily and produced litters of living young. Schmalfuss and coworkers11 found emulsified coconut oil to be equal to cod liver oil for feeding to calves. Similarly, Fingerling3 found that emulsified peanut oil was a satisfactory supplement to skim milk for calves provided it was not added in too great amounts.

In 1939 we reported,4 very briefly, our results obtained from feeding calves butter oil, lard, corn oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil, respectively, homogenized into skim milk. The results, as measured in terms of rate of gain in weight, physical appearance and general well-being of calves, indicated clearly the superior nutritive value of butterfat over all the other fats and oils tested. The calves fed lard made nearly as rapid gains in weight…

[Pages 118 and 119 omitted in original document. Resuming with page 120:]


No real difficulty was encountered in getting calves to drink the desired amounts of the various prepared skim milk, oil or fat products. However, it was necessary in some cases, due to poor physical condition of the calf, to either reduce the amount of the product fed, to change temporarily to whole milk, or to reduce the fat content of the milk fed (see Table 2). This occurred almost wholly with calves fed either corn oil, cottonseed oil or soybean oil. The necessity of limiting the food intake in these groups made equivalent reductions necessary in other groups in order to keep them on approximately the same nutrient intake basis. The average nutrient intake of the various groups at different ages and weights is indicated in Table 1. Table 2 indicates the kind of fat or oil fed and the fat content of milk fed to each calf along with facts relating to its physical condition. It also shows the age and weight of the animal at start and end of experimental period, together with average daily gain in weight of each group. Figure 2 indicates the growth of the calves in each group.

Table 1.
 Average Weight at 30-day Intervals and Nutrient per Day and per 100 Pounds Live Weight. [See original document for data.]

Table 2. Number, Breed and Sex of Calves Fed Different Fats and Oils. Their Age and Weight at Beginning and End of Experimental Period and Physical Condition While
on Experiment. Also, Fat Content of Milk Fed. [See original for data.]

Figure 2. Growth Curves of Calves Fed Various Fats and Oils. [See original for data.]

It will be observed from Table 2 that the calves fed fats of animal origin, butterfat, tallow and lard made significantly greater average daily gains in weight than those receiving the vegetable oils, but especially [greater than those receiving] soybean oil, cottonseed oil and corn oil. Another significant difference noted between the groups was the greater amount of fat present in the carcasses of milk-fat fed calves. Even lard- and tallow-fat fed calves that had made good gains in weight and were in healthy, thrifty condition when slaughtered were inferior in this respect. This fact may be of special significance in relation to the quality of veal produced.

No apparent differences were observed between calves fed whole milk and those receiving the butter oil homogenized in skim milk. Both groups were…[Pages 123 and 125 omitted in original. Resuming with page 126:]

The condition of the calves in the groups fed coconut oil and peanut oil, respectively, were on the whole inferior to calves fed lard or tallow but were definitely superior to the animals fed either corn oil, cottonseed oil or soybean oil. In the latter three groups, the calves almost invariably appeared thin and emaciated with rough unkempt hair. Some of them also showed a characteristic loss of hair or dermatitis, the areas about the face, ears and neck being first affected. Subsequent losses occurred on the lateral and medial areas of the cannons of the rear legs. A brown, oily-like crust covered the denuded areas. The time of the appearance of the condition, its extent and duration varied widely in different individuals. The fact that some animals in these groups were not affected, that it appeared in a few individuals in other groups, and also that it sometimes occurs in calves on normal rations makes it difficult to suggest a probable cause.

Indigestion or scours appeared among the calves in all groups, but those fed corn oil, soybean oil and cottonseed oil were the most seriously affected. Some calves in these groups died from this disorder at an early age (data not included), and others probably would have done so if the ration had not been changed as indicated in Table 2. Others in these three groups, although not affected by scours, gained very slowly in weight for a time although they appeared rather haggard and dull, as though starving. This was followed by gradual weakening and some loss in weight, often terminating in death if whole milk was not substituted in time. Several calves (319 and 392) that were in a very weakened condition and unable to stand made remarkable recoveries after such a change in diet was made.


The study indicates that under the conditions of the trials, butterfat was superior to all other fats and oils tested as a food for young dairy calves. It appears that tallow and lard may also be used quite satisfactorily for this purpose under the plan of feeding followed. The reason for the superiority of milk fat over other fats and oils tested and for the reasonably good results obtained with the lard and tallow is not indicated by the data. It is true that the calves in these groups were fed on a slightly higher plane than those in some of the other groups, but this alone is hardly sufficient to account for the marked differences observed in the rate of gain in weight and physical condition of the calf. No doubt the more frequent and perhaps more severe cases of scours among calves in the corn oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil groups affected the results, but this was probably not the most important factor involved, for death or slow gain in weight also occurred in calves in these groups in which indigestion was absent. It may be pointed out as a matter of general observation in regard to these three groups that the older the calf and the more vigorous it was when placed on experiment, the better the results obtained. The latter is probably the chief reason for the fairly satisfactory growth of calf No. 323 on cottonseed oil.

A question may be raised as to whether or not each of the various oils actually [was] digestedand absorbed into the body. Unfortunately, no digestion trials were conducted. However, the relatively high fat volume of the blood plasma of the animals fed the less satisfactory oils as compared to that of those fed milk fat suggests that these oils probably were absorbed. Too much emphasis should not be given to this fact, however, because of the very limited amount of data on hand. What happened to these oils if they actually were absorbed is not known. Were they altered and later excreted through the skin, causing the dermatitis-like condition previously described, or were they excreted back into the intestine? Only further investigations can answer these questions. Post mortem examinations indicated that they were not stored as depot fat in the body to any great extent.

No attempt will be made at this time to explain the differences noted in the nutritive value of the fats and oils tested. It may be pointed out, however, that the work of Burr and Burr2 and the more recent studies of Hart and coworkers9,10 suggest that the nature and kind of fatty acid combinations present may be extremely important. Also, it is possible that some of the oils fed lacked in certain essential factors or that they contained substances toxic to the young calf. We are now investigating these and other phases of this problem.


Feeding tests were conducted to compare the feeding valueof the following fats and oils for calves: butterfat, lard, tallow, coconut oil, peanut oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil. The effect of a very fat-poor diet on calves was also determined. Each oil or fat was added to skim milk, homogenized to form a product containing 3.5 percent fat, and fed along with a low-fat content concentrate mixture, cod liver oil and some alfalfa hay. One control group was fed normal whole milk not homogenized. Test periods ranged from a few days to about six months.

In average daily gainin weight as well as in general well-being, the calves fed butterfat excelled those in all other groups. Following closely were those receiving lard and tallow. Corn oil, cottonseed oil and soybean oil were the least satisfactory. The average daily gains of calves in the latter three groups were 0.40 pound, 0.31 pound and 0.32 pound, respectively. They appeared unthrifty, listless and emaciated. Some calves in these groups died, and others were saved only by changing to whole milk.
Post mortem examinations showed considerably more fat deposited in calves fed butterfat than in those that had been fed other oils and fats.


1. Allen, N.N. “A Simple Volumetric Method for Determination of Fat in Blood
Plasma.” Soc. Expt. Biol. and Med. Proc., 31: 991–993, 1934.
2. Burr, G.O., and Burr, M.M. “On the Nature and Role of the Fatty Acids Essential in Nutrition.” Jour. Biol. Chem., 86: 587–621,1930.
3. Fingerling, G. Beitrage zur Physiologie der Ernahrung wachsender Tiere. I. Ersatz von Vollmilch durch Magermilch mit und ohnesurrogate bei
Kalbern. Landw. Vers. Sta., 68: 141–188, 1909.
4. Gullickson, T.W., and Fountaine, F.C. “The Use of Various Oils and Fats for Calf Feeding.” Joint. Dairy Sci., 22: 471–472, 1939.
5. Hendricks, J. “Calf Feeding Experiments with Separated Milk and Oils.” Highland and Agr. Soc. Scot. Trans., 25: 259–282, 1913.
6. Leach, T.A., and Golding, N.S. “A Preliminary Report of the Substitution of Pilchard Oil for Butterfat in Milk for Calf Feeding.” Sci. Agr., 12: 204–205, 1931.
7. Lindsey, J.B. “Feeding Calves for Veal.” Mass. Agr. Expt. Sta., 12th Ann. Report, 125–145, 1894.
8. Schantz, E.J. Elvehjem, C.A., and Hart, E.B. “The Comparative Nutritive Value of Butterfat and Certain Vegetable Oils.” Jour. Dairy Sci., 23: 181–189, 1940.
9. Schantz, E.J., Boutwell, R.K., Elvehjem, C.A., and Hart, E.B. “The Effect of Added Egg Phospholipids on the Nutritive Value of Certain Vegetable Oils.” Jour. Dairy Sci., 23: 1201–1204, 1940.
10. Schantz, E.J., Boutwell, R.K., Elvehjem, C.A., and Hart, E.B. “The Nutritive Value of the Fatty Acid Fractions of Butterfat.” Jour. Dairy Sci., 23: 1205–1210, 1940.
11. Schmalfuss, H., Werner, H., arm Esskuchen, E . Vergleich von Lebertran, Lebertran-emulsion, und Kokosol Emulsion an Kalbern. Zuchtungskunde, 13: 31–43, 1938.

By T.W. Gullickson, F.C. Fountaine (member of staff at Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station), and J.B. Fitch, Division of Dairy Husbandry, University of Minnesota. Reprinted by the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research from Journal or Dairy Science, February 1942, Vol. XXV, No. 2, pages 117–128. Received for publication September 22, 1941. Published with the approval of the director as Paper No. 1925, Scientific Journal Series, Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.

Reprint No. 138
Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201

Note: Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research is a nonprofit, public-service institution, chartered to investigate and disseminate nutritional information. The attached publication is not literature or labeling for any product, nor shall it be employed as such by anyone. In accordance with the right of freedom of the press guaranteed to the Foundation by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the attached publication is issued and distributed for informational purposes.


Patrick Earvolino, CN

Patrick Earvolino is a Certified Nutritionist and Special Projects Editor for Selene River Press, Inc.

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