We all know that when handling, transporting and shipping cattle, stress is increased and weight loss and carcass changes occur.
A new, or should I say reintroduced product, is back on the market after having been shelved by Agriculture Canada for many years. The product is called DeStress and is currently being marketed by a Wetaskiwin feed mill. In a way, it provides instant returns to the feedlot finisher through increased yield and reducing dark cutters in half. And it is simply the right thing to provide from an animal welfare perspective.
It is a way to manage antemortem stress. Dr. Al Schaefer of Lacombe Research Centre and others worked on derivatives of this product, relying on 15 to 20 years of published research to get the formulation right.
This article will provide an explanation of the product, how it benefits the cattle, and the expected financial benefit. (There are probably other areas in cattle, swine or equine production and performance where feeding of this product could provide huge benefit.)
There is no doubt that transport of cattle (regardless of the distance) produces stress that causes shrinkage, dehydration, and the loss of electrolytes and amino acids. Some types of animals have this to lesser or greater degrees than others. Genetics of the cattle; weather conditions; and excitability or docility of the cattle method of handling will all determine what the final shrinkage and meat quality will be at the packing plant.
Some of these thing are under our control and others simply are not. Once the cattle leave the farm/feedlot, the owner has no control. Feeding a product before transport to replace the expected losses of these necessary nutrients means the cattle will arrive in better health with less shrink and less dark cutters, and potentially grade better.
When transporting cattle either to a plant or auction market or home from pasture, we all have looked at the proverbial shrink that occurs. We know there will be some weight loss (or shrink) because of fecal loss, urine loss, sweat, etc. It is when this amount gets excessive and climbs well above the two to four per cent we are hoping for, that we recognize the significance. Some freshly weaned, transported and held overnight cattle at auction markets can shrink by 10 per cent or even higher. If this is not replenished quickly after the stressful event, cattle are more prone to get sick from other things — or in the case of slaughter animals, the number of dark cutters will increase. If we can retain some of that shrink by feeding a nutritive supplement before shipping which replaces these lost nutrients, it will be a positive experience for the cattle and will return economically for the producer.
DeStress came on the market a decade ago under the name Nutricharge, but then was released to the United States and lost to Canada for a long period of time. It is considered a nutritive supplement so has no slaughter withdrawal period and is not considered a pharmaceutical in any way.
It contains a combination of electrolytes, amino acids, and certain blood sugars. So it is similar to giving an electrolyte to counteract dehydration to a scouring calf or a stress diarrheic show bull. In this case though, it is given to healthy cattle to counteract the dehydration that occurs during transport. It is easy to administer as it is a feed supplement and can be mixed into feed 24 hours before the stressful event.
Dr. Schaefer and his researchers found it lessened shrink by about two per cent compared to control animals, which is statistically significant. Improvements in carcass yield and grade were also noticed. These all go hand in hand — two per cent less shrink would convert into 20-plus pounds (depending on the size of the cattle).
With transportation coming under more public scrutiny, this should make cattle more comfortable — kind of like us having Gatorade after a period of intense exercise.
While the focus has been transportation of cattle headed for sale or for slaughter, benefits are found after weaning or when transporting show cattle. Severely shrunk cattle are much more stressed and definitely more likely to get BRD (bovine respiratory complex) among other infectious diseases.
We all need to get around the expectation that we want shrunk-out cattle. Stressful conditions such as parturition or recovery from illness will benefit from something like DeStress. Even shipping cull cows should benefit, (although to a lesser degree than feedlot cattle) as they are subject to potentially higher levels of stress because they are more fractious animals. With feeder cattle having more energy, they will need fewer treatments after arriving at their final destination. This product is also formulated for swine, and different rates have been tried on other minor farmed species such as elk and bison.
Reducing morbidity or mortality with a non-prescription product that is a supplement is a win for the cattle industry. In the future, there may be more specific guidelines regarding type of cattle, temperament, distance travelled, and ambient temperature as to whether a nutritive supplement may be mandatory. Dr. Schaefer’s group even fine-tuned it to the extent to determine that the top and front of cattle liners cause more shrink on average in cattle.
There was an average of more than eight per cent shrink on 900-pound feeders which converts to over 70 pounds. The nutritive supplement will significantly reduce some of these losses.
Adoption of a nutritive supplement program relies on ease of administration, and feeding this product fits this requirement. A dose is about a couple of pounds per 1,100 pounds of cattle.
I would suggest going to www.destress-nutrition.com for more complete information. This is one more tool to ensure healthy well-treated cattle are being raised on Canadian farms.
This article first appeared on the Alberta Farmer Express.