1. Surgically prepared lactating goats were used to obtain quantitative information on the biohydrogenation and absorption of dietary fat, and on the mammary uptake and transfer into milk fat of the complex mixture of cis- and trans-isomers of octadecenoate that arise during ruminal biohydrogenation. 2. About 90% of dietary linolenate, linoleate and oleate was hydrogenated in the rumen, and the availability to the animals of the essential fatty acid, linoleate, represented only 0.5–1.5% of the total dietary energy. 3. The intra-ruminal administration of 14C-labelled linolenate and linoleate showed that these acids were not absorbed from the rumen, in agreement with previous work. 4. No selectivity was observed in the metabolism of the geometrical and positional isomers of octadecenoate: their rates of absorption from the small intestine, transfer into lymph, uptake by the mammary gland and appearance in milk fat were similar. 5. The desaturase activity of intestinal epithelium was demonstrated by the appearance in lymph of [1-14C]oleate after the addition of [1-14C]stearate to the small intestine.

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