Feed additives (such as monensin and essential oils) tend to increase the dry matter and crude protein digestibility of animals and the concentration of volatile fatty acids in the rumen, increasing feed efficiency and nitrogen utilization (Silva et al. 2018). One of the main regulators of DMI, especially in high-yielding dairy cows, is physical occupancy in the rumen. Variations in DMI are particularly related to the fiber content of the diet and its digestibility. The increase in fiber’s digestibility causes a reduction of undigested material in the rumen content, which positively affects DMI by increasing intestinal filling (Benchaar 2021). The OAW we used in our study provided a slight increase in DMI. This increase in DMI indicates that OAW supplementation to the diet provides a slight increase in the palatability of the diets. Some researchers have stated that the essential oils and/or their mixtures supplemented to the diet increase the palatability of diets (Giller et al. 2020), while others have stated the opposite (Hristov et al. 2013; Benchaar 2021). Many researchers have stated that DMI was not affected by herbal feed additives (Meiring 2014; Hashemzadeh-Cigari et al. 2015; Drong 2016; Silva et al. 2018; Prayitno et al. 2019; Stivanin et al. 2019; Braun et al. 2019). However, Hashemzadeh-Cagari et al. (2014) and Kuester (2016) indicated that DMI was affected by herbal feed additives. Milk production is related to DMI and nutrient supply. In parallel with the increase in DMI in dairy cows, an increase occurs in milk production (Hassanat et al. 2017; Giller et al. 2020). However, Benchaar (2021) reported that the supplementation of thyme oil did not change either DMI or milk production in cows. Thyme oil (Benchaar 2021) and mixtures of several different essential oils (Giller et al. 2020) were supplemented to the diets of dairy cows, but the milk fat ratio was not affected as in our study. It has been reported that the reason why milk fat is not affected may be related to the lack of an effect on the molar ratio of acetate, which is the main precursor of fat synthesis by the mammary glands (Benchaar 2021). Like the milk fat ratio, the milk protein, lactose and DM ratios were not affected by the supplementation of AOW. There are researchers reporting that herbal feed additives do not affect milk production and milk compositions (Meiring 2014; Hashemzadeh-Cigari et al. 2015; Drong 2016; Kuester 2016; Nowers 2016; Silva et al. 2018; Prayitno et al. 2019; Stivanin et al. 2019; Braun et al. 2019). However, Hashemzadeh-Cagari et al. (2014) and Braun et al. (2019) reported the opposite of these results. However, perhaps the different results obtained were related to the fact that the researchers studied with different herbal feed additives and dosages.
The SCC values obtained in the study were lower than the legal values for human consumption (< 500.000 cells in mL milk) (De Villiers et al. 2000). SCC is associated with udder health and milk quality. High SSC (above 500.000 cells/mL) is an indicator of low milk quality and unhealthy udder (Hashemzadeh-Cigari et al. 2014). Similarly to our result, Silva Filho et al. (2017) reported that the supplementation of thyme EO tends to reduce SCC. However, Giannenas et al. (2011) stated that the use of essential oil significantly reduces SCC in sheep milk. Many researchers who experimented with herbal products and their essential oils also reported reducing the SCC value (Hashemzadeh-Cigari et al. 2014; Meiring 2014; Moller 2015; Kuester 2016). On the contrary, Giller et al. (2020) reported that the use of thyme oil significantly increased SCC in cows, but this increase did not reach the value indicating mastitis. The large number of compounds present in EO can explain these variable results. Sometimes, the bioactivity of an EO can be attributed to one or two of its major compounds. In some cases, however, the sum of several compounds may be more effective than any single major compound (Bakkali et al. 2008; Giller et al. 2020).
Analysis of hematological and biochemical blood values is the decision making parameters used to obtain information about the animal’s metabolic and health status. Besides, biochemical parameters are important in the evaluation of damage in organs and tissues (Klinkon and Jezek 2012). Because of the negative energy balance in the early lactation dairy cows, almost all are faced with the risk of ketosis. During this period, ketone values increases and glucose values decreases. When the blood ketone value between 1.2–1.4 mmol/L, there is subclinical ketosis (Oetzel 2013). The blood ketone and glucose values of cows at the beginning of the trial were above these reference values. At the end of the experiment, it is thought that the antiketogenic effects of the plant and its extracts may be the reason for the decrease in blood ketone concentration in OAW supplemented groups and increased glucose levels in parallel. Studies have shown that propionate has an antiketogenic effect (Bush and Milligan 1971) and oregano aromatic water increases the concentration of propionate (Ozkaya 2020; Ozkaya et al. 2020). In contrast, Tassoul and Shaver (2009) also reported that the essential oils did not affect the GLU and ketone values of the cows in the early lactation. The different results may be due to the use of different herbal feed additives and dosages. Hashemzadeh-Cagari et al. (2015) observed that the herbal mixtures did not affect the biochemical blood values of cows. No significant differences was found among the means of hematological blood values. This result supported Drong (2016), who stated that essential oil supplementation had no effect on hematological blood values.
Sharma et al. (2011) reported that in the early lactation, cows were under oxidative stress and low antioxidative defense system and this situation increased the sensitivity to diseases such as mastitis and metritis. The results obtained from this study showed that OAW supplementation may support the antioxidative defense systems of cows in early lactation and prevent the effects of oxidative stress. However, However, Hashemzadeh-Cagari et al. (2015) and Mazur et al. (2019) found that supplementing cows with an herbal mixture had no effect on their antioxidative defense system.
Since there has been no published study on the effects of oregano aromatic water supplementation on milk yield, dry matter intake, blood parameters, and somatic cell count, it is difficult to make a reliable comparison with other researchers who used different additives at different doses.
In conclusion, this study showed that the amounts of OAW used did not have a significant negative effect on milk production, milk components, metabolic health and oxidative stress. However, OAW’s tendency to reduce SCC showed that it could have positive effects on udder health. Similarly, the decrease in blood ketone value and increase in glucose value led us to believe that it may be beneficial in preventing ketosis caused by a negative energy balance in the early stages of lactation.
At the same time, OAW showed that it can be used to prevent disease by significantly supporting the antioxidative defense mechanism against oxidative stress, which is thought to be the cause of many diseases. However, the amounts of OAW used in the study were likely too low to show positive effects on milk production and milk quality. The wide variety of EO in plants containing different EO, even within the same species due to geographic location, creates a significant challenge and an uncertainty element that is difficult to control in scientific research with natural EO extracts. In order to better understand the effects of single EO compounds and their combinations on the metabolism and production-related parameters of dairy cows, studies should be conducted to determine which compounds and which defined mixtures of these compounds are promising and in what amounts they should be used.