The biohydrogenation theory of milk fat depression (MFD) attributes decreases in milk fat in cows to the formation of specific fatty acids (FA) in the rumen. Trans-10, cis-12-CLA is the only biohydrogenation intermediate known to inhibit milk fat synthesis, but it is uncertain if increased ruminal synthesis is the sole explanation of MFD. Four lactating cows were used in a 4×4 Latin square with a 2×2 factorial arrangement of treatments and 35-d experimental periods to evaluate the effect of diets formulated to cause differences in ruminal lipid metabolism and milk fat synthesis on the flow of FA and dimethyl acetal at the omasum. Treatments comprised total mixed rations based on grass silage with a forage:concentrate ratio of 35:65 or 65:35 containing 0 or 50 g/kg sunflower oil (SO). Supplementing the high-concentrate diet with SO lowered milk fat synthesis from −20·2 to −31·9 % relative to other treatments. Decreases in milk fat were accompanied by alterations in ruminal biohydrogenation favouring the trans-10 pathway and an increase in the formation of specific intermediates including trans-4 to trans-10-18 : 1, trans-8, trans-10-CLA, trans-9, cis-11-CLA and trans-10, cis-15-18 : 2. Flow of trans-10, cis-12-CLA at the omasum was greater on high- than low-concentrate diets but unaffected by SO. In conclusion, ruminal trans-10, cis-12-CLA formation was not increased on a diet causing MFD suggesting that other biohydrogenation intermediates or additional mechanisms contribute to the regulation of fat synthesis in the bovine mammary gland.