News last update:6 Aug 2012

Electrolyte drinks for stressed cows

While there are no plans to stage cow races, electrolyte sports drinks appear to benefit the animals by reducing suffering during long sea journeys, according to a publication in New Scientist magazine.

Australia exports over 4 million cattle and sheep a year, mainly to the Middle East, but animal welfare concerns have prompted calls to ban the practice. Temperatures can soar to over 40 °C with 80% humidity as ships pass through the tropics, causing the animals to become severely stressed, suffer respiratory distress, lose weight and even die.

Effect of electrolyte supplements
Now a study aboard a ship bound for the Middle East has found that adding measured amounts of sodium bicarbonate and potassium chloride to water increased the weight of 39 steers by 3% compared to 40 steers that drank plain water (Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, vol 47, p 119).
Electrolyte supplements have been used before during livestock transport, but without evidence that they work or any guidance on how much to give. "The ship's captain says, 'Let's give them electrolyte,' and the stockmen go around shoving handfuls of white powder into the troughs," says team leader David Beatty of Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia.

His team's controlled trial showed that animals that received the supplement drank more, and kept a normal body pH, which can be disrupted by heat stress.

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Murdoch University

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