An oral electrolyte solution with the correct tonicity will reduce the effects of transport stress on beef calves

Stress and deprivation of feed and water as a result of transport induce a hormonal response in beef calves, leading to dehydration, reduction of potassium levels and depletion of glycogen levels. Supplementation with the correct levels of potassium and glycerol increases water intake and as a result beef calves become less dehydrated and they lose less bodyweight[1], as long as the tonicity of the supplement is correct[2]. A trial was carried out to study the effects of a supplement in bull calves if fed before transport for an extended period of time.

Key takeaways from the research

  • Feed and water deprivation in combination with transport stress can cause dehydration with loss of potassium and depletion of glycogen reserves
  • Supplementation before transport of beef with a hypotonic, potassium based electrolyte product in combination with glycerol reduced dehydration and reduced the loss of bodyweight normally seen after transport

Materials and methods

This trial was carried out in a collection centre in which beef calves arrive with a bodyweight of around 220 kg. They stay in the collection centre for 3-5 days. During this period, they have access to water and they are fed straw only. After this period of 3-5 days, they are being transported to a fattening farm over a distance of about 600 kilometres. This transport usually takes about 6 hours.

Two groups of 40 bull calves were included in the trial. The trial group received the supplement mixed into their drinking water at a rate of 4%. The control group was given water only. Calves were weighed upon arrival in the collection centre and upon departure to and arrival on the fattening farm.

Results

During the period that the animals stayed at the collection centre, the trial group that was supplemented with electrolyte solution had an increase of bodyweight of 3.8 kg, whereas the animals in the control group that were only given water lost 1.7 kg. Upon arrival on the farm, the animals that were supplemented had lost 2.6 kg bodyweight vs. 3.3. kg bodyweight for the controls (see Graph 1).

Conclusion

If calves are supplemented with a hypotonic supplement containing potassium and glycerol in drinking water immediately after they have been transported for a long period of time, they will grow better in the period immediately after they have been transported.

References

  1. de Carvalho, I.P.C. and J. Martín-Tereso, 2017, Electrolyte and glycerol solution supply to feed deprived bulls before slaughter, Proceedings of the annual congress of the EAAP, Tallin, 68: 384.
  2. Schaefer, A.L, Dubeski, P.L, Aalhus, J.L and A. K. W. Tong, 2001, Role of nutrition in reducing antemortem stress and meat quality aberrations, J. An. Science, 79, 91–101.