Stress is an ever-present part of modern farming. An animal experiences psychosocial stress when facing psychosocial stressors such as animal-to-animal interactions (during re-allotment, large groups kept in small areas) and/or human-to-animal interactions (weaning, transportation, vaccination).

This type of stress can have major consequences, especially in terms of production. Indeed, under stressful situations animals will adapt by changing their behaviour (decreased feed intake, shorter rest periods, a decrease in the time spend ruminating). However, reducing the negative effects of stress is still possible, especially with an approach focussed on individual response.

A unique solution to stress

Phodé developed an innovative plantbased sensory solution to help animals cope with psychosocial stress. Tested under various defined stress conditions typically found in husbandry, this solution maintains animals’ normal behaviour by modulating their perception of stress.

This plant-based solution is a neurosensorial feed additive mainly composed of a specific extract from the Rutaceae family and has been developed in partnership with the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), which conducted scientific trials to validate the solution’s actions on the brain.

By having pigs undergo positron emission tomography (PET) imaging, they discovered that the solution modulates the activity of several cerebral areas. Indeed, this solution stimulates the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in animals’ adaptation capacity, and inhibits the amygdala, which is involved in aggressive behaviour.

Positive effect on behaviour

A study in an experimental feedlot in the state of São Paulo, Brazil was performed to evaluate the effect of this solution on fattening beef cattle for 100 days. Eighty Nellore bulls were assigned to eight pens (ten animals per pen). Half received the plant-based solution mixed with the daily total mixed ration.

A psychosocial stressor was created 50 days after the start of the trial. Several behavioural adaptations were observed, beginning with the increase of daily feeding time over the entire study period – this was independent of events such as adaptation and mixing. Consequently, the average feed intake of the treated group was higher (P=0,02).

Rumination time was also higher (P=0,11) (Figure 1) and the period of inactivity was lower in the treated group compared to the control group. The behavioural differences increased the average daily gain of the treated animals with 10% (+153g/d). In terms of carcass yield, the average daily gain was 4% higher (+46g/d).

Figure 1: Number of animals observed ruminating per hour over 14 weeks.

Solution improves meat quality

Besides zootechnical parameters, the meat quality of 160 cuttings of the longissimus muscle from both the control and treated animals was assessed. Cuttings were packed and stored in a fridge (4 to 6°C, fluorescent light). Meat colour and drip losses were analysed on the day of packing (t0) and then three (t3), five (t5) and seven days (t7) after packing.

Regarding the vermilion, it showed a higher value in the meat of cattle treated with the solution from seven days after slaughter (P<0,001). The same results were observed for the yellow colour of fat (P=0,06). More water losses were observed from the control samples at nine days after slaughter (P=0,012). Those observations may be explained by a reduction of oxidation of myoglobin when using the solution, which led to a more stable red colour after slaughter. Drip losses were reduced by 24% at t7.

Managing the response to stress through the neuro-sensory molecules of the plant-based solution appeared to have a positive impact on colour and drip loss.

In conclusion

This study showed that managing psychosocial stress in feedlot cattle can maximise zootechnical performance. The behaviour of the plant-based solution treated animals was better during the adaptation period, which induced better feed intake and growth. Meat quality was also improved as stress and meat quality are closely linked.

For enquires, contact Liezel Olivier of Olfactum Nutrition on 082 572 0141 or liezel@olfactum.co.za.