Palm Kernel Extract

August 2008
Imported palm kernel extract (PKE) is now a popular supplementary feed for dairy cows.

Massey University and AgResearch Grasslands have been researching the use of palm kernel in New Zealand pasture-based systems.

Recently ABB Grain opened a new storage facility at Port Taranaki for the importation of PKE. It is spending $20 million nationwide on supplementary feed storage facilities like the one at New Plymouth.

Palm kernel extract (PKE) is a by-product of the edible oil industry, being the crushed seed material left after palm seed oil extraction, which occurs in Malaysia and Indonesia. According to MAF, 58% has been imported from Indonesia and 42% from Malaysia. New Zealand imported 365,000 tonnes of PKE in 2007.

PKE is a useful short-term supplementary feed, because it is readily available and storable. At the moment it costs about 40c/kgDM.

PKE is fed in different ways dry powder through a dairy shed feeding system; dry powder in troughs; or mixed with pasture silage and maize silage; or made into pellets with molasses and other ingredients.

PKE provides extra feed (energy and dry matter) for dairy cows when feed shortages occur. No scientific studies had been conducted in NZ looking at the use of PKE in pasture based systems. Research at Massey University has been investigating the chemical composition of PKE, how it was digested and fermented with and without pasture, and animal responses when fed to grazing dairy cows. One of the first things Massey researchers have done is analyze PKE samples using wet chemistry methods to determine its chemical composition and energy content. They agree with ABB Grains statements about PKE DM containing 8-10% fat, 70-75% fibre (measured as NDF), medium protein content (16-17%) and low starch concentrations (

Importing agent ABB Grain has made the following statements about PKE:

PKE combines mid to high energy levels (around 8% fat and 65% neutral detergent fibre, NDF) with moderate protein levels (15%).

PKE is very low in starch and sugars, because most of the energy comes from the oil and NDF, so it does not cause any risk of developing acidosis and few rumen health issues are likely.

The NDF in PKE has a small particle size and is low in effective fibre. It should be fed with a long (effective) fibre source to establish sufficient rumination.

The calcium to phosphorus ratio of PKE is low, as is sodium, so calcium and sodium may need to be supplemented if PKE is fed at high levels.

The high fermentable NDF level in PKE is a substrate for acetic and butyric acid production which will aid milk fat production and stimulate cow condition. Massey researchers found that the milkfat concentration was higher when cows were fed PKE compared to cows not fed PKE.

PKEs moderately fast fermentable NDF and medium protein levels make it suitable to be fed in conjunction with high starch, low protein supplements like maize silage and tapioca.

For milk production normal feed intakes for cows are about 2-3kg DM and higher rates of up to 6kg DM are possible in serious feed shortages, but cows have high refusals at this feeding rate.

A feeding experiment in late lactation at Massey University No. 4 dairy farm found milksolid responses of 39 g MS/kgDM when cows were offered 3 kgPKE/day and 50 g milksolids/kgDM when cows were offered 6 kgDM/cow/day. However, if used to extend lactation length by delaying the drying off date, greater responses would have been expected.

A group of researchers in Palmerston North have run trials to determine the feeding value of PKE in pasture based grazing systems. These people are Brazilian PhD student Francisco Dias and his supervisors, Dr Jennifer Burke, senior lecturer at Massey in dairy production systems and nutrition, and Dr David Pacheco, senior scientist at Grasslands, AgResearch.

They have found that it is necessary to feed PKE under controlled conditions and measure the milk production to establish its feeding value under NZs pasture based grazing system and believe that utilization is increased by mixing with moist silages or other feed mixes.

Offering higher feeding levels (one-third or more of the diet) results in not all the PKE being consumed. Cows only want to eat about 2-3 kgDM.

They believe that PKE fills a short term feed gap, but is not a magical feed.