Calming cattle is a win-win
Beef cattle are exposed to stressful management procedures that are mandatory in beef production systems, including weaning, handling by humans, and transport. During and after stressful conditions, animals often stop eating, lose weight, and are more likely to develop bovine respiratory disease (BRD).
Scientists have been studying maternal bovine appeasing substance (MBAS), which could improve animal welfare while increasing cattle health and profitability for ranchers.
Rodrigo Bicalho, DVM, PhD, CEO of FERA Diagnostics and Biologicals, says MBAS is a combination of fatty acids produced by the skin near the mammary gland of lactating mammals. When nursing, these chemicals enter a gland in the calf ’s nose. This gland directly connects to the hypothalamus and amygdala regions of the brain that recognize and process stress reactions. The MBAS molecules seem to neutralize the calf’s perception of stressful situations, allowing it to feel protected and safe while nursing.
“Although most beef breeds benefit from this treatment, animals with a larger flight zone may benefit more,” Bicalho explains. “We’re tapping the well-being of animals by exposing them to this substance, so they calm down, reduce their threat perception and, consequently, feel less stress when we’re exposing them to stressful events.”
“Treated calves in a preconditioning program are calmer, their dry matter intake is higher, and they’re gaining weight after weaning,” Bicalho asserts. “When calves are weighed before moving to the next production stage, the rancher receives money for an extra 20 to 50 pounds per head. That’s significant.”
Feedyard calves also benefit from MBAS. The biggest challenge they face is BRD, which affects between 20 and 70 percent of new feedyard arrivals. Research suggests calves treated before being transported to feedyards adapt more quickly to feedyard life in the first 30 to 60 days. Their dry matter intake was higher, with more efficient feed conversion, resulting in more gained weight.
“Cattle evolved to identify and escape from predators,” Bicalho shares. “They view us as predators; when they feel sick, they try to hide it. The application of MBAS reduces threat perception. Pen riders spot sick calves sooner, providing treatment more quickly, which means animals are more responsive to antimicrobials. We saw both the percentage of steers requiring retreatment and mortality rates reduced.”
When feedyards ship finished steers for harvest, stress causes an increase of pH levels leading to dark cutters. Treated steers displayed reduced dark cutter carcasses with lower pH values. “It’s the last hurdle of being able to provide proper welfare before slaughter,” Bicalho explains.
Reinaldo F. Cooke, PhD, professor with Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Animal Science, is one of the scientists who conducted several MBAS research studies. Passionate about animal productivity and welfare, he has been surprised how consistent results have been during the testing phase. He plans to study the effects of this technology on artificial insemination and embryo transfer.
“The benefits of this product include production efficiency and increased animal welfare,” Cooke reveals. “Consumers want to know they are eating beef from animals raised humanely.”
Cooke advises ranchers and feedyard managers to keep an open mind. “This product has been used successfully in swine. It’s easily applied to the animal’s skin. Think about the animals’ stress during weaning, castration, vaccination, and shipping. The benefits of reducing stress are enormous.”
The MBAS product does not require a prescription or veterinary feed directive plan. Composed of fatty acids, the producer sprays it on the skin just above the muzzle and back of the head during regular animal husbandry chores. For more information, visit www.feraah.com/ferappease.
Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Animal Science Professor Reinaldo F. Cooke advises ranchers and feedyard managers to keep an open mind. As one of the scientists who conducted several MBAS research studies, he says:
“This product has been used successfully in swine. It’s easily applied to the animal’s skin. Think about the animals’ stress during weaning, castration, vaccination, and shipping. The benefits of reducing stress are enormous.”
- The amygdala responds quickly to potential threats in the environment and plays a key role in determining whether environments are perceived as safe or dangerous
- Threat perception leads to activation of the hypothalamicpituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis leading to increased release of the glucocorticoid hormone, cortisol, from the adrenal glands and increased release of the catecholamines, epinephrine and norepinephrine
- Threat perception ultimately leads to elevated inflammation, decreased dry matter intake (DMI), weight loss, increased morbidity, and mortality
- Topically administered Maternal Bovine Appeasing Substance (MBAS) is locally assimilated by the vomeronasal organ located in the nasal cavity
- MBAS-mediated stimulation of the vomeronasal gland desensitizes regions of the amygdala and the hypothalamus, decreasing the perception of threat
- Reduced threat perception leads to:
- Lower levels of cortisol
- Lower inflammation
- Lower morbidity and mortality
- Increased weight gain