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Study Finds Hemp Feed Can Reduce Stress in Cattle

According to recent research, Kansas State University researchers found that industrial hemp livestock feed can lower stress levels in cattle.

The 2018 Farm Bill’s legalization of hemp has led to a flurry of research across the country as scientists work to discover novel ways to make use of a valuable new agricultural commodity. Kansas State research has previously shown that industrial hemp plant matter has favorable crude protein profiles and digestibility, making it suitable for cattle feed.

A second study showed that CBD-rich hemp flower was able to absorb cannabidiolic acids (CBDA), in cattle after they were fed it. Michael Kleinhenz is an assistant professor of beef production in the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. He believes that previous research can have implications on the viability of hemp for livestock feed.

“If hemp is to be utilized as an ingredient in the ration of cattle, it is prudent to know and understand the pharmacokinetics and potential biological effects of cattle exposed to repeated doses of cannabinoids present in industrial hemp,” Kleinhenz said in a statement from the university.

Kleinhenz was joined by a group of researchers to examine whether cannabinoids in hemp could have an impact on stress levels and activity of cattle fed hemp feed.

“Cattle experience a variety of stress and inflammation,” Kleinhenz explained, noting that animals that are being transported or weaned are particularly vulnerable.

Researchers Observe Hemp’s Benefits in Livestock Feed

Researchers fed 8 Holstein steers industrial hemp as a part of their study. To ensure consistent and complete intake, the hemp was added to grain. One control group, consisting of eight steers, was provided with feed that didn’t contain hemp. Monitoring was done to determine cannabinoid levels and blood stress markers. Activity levels were also measured, including how many steps the animals took per day as well as the time they spent lying down. Researchers compared the results of the two groups by analysing the data.

“Our most recent data shows how cannabinoids via industrial hemp decreased the stress hormone cortisol as well as the inflammatory biomarker prostaglandin E2,” Kleinhenz said. “This shows that hemp containing cannabidiolic acid, or CBDA, may decrease stress and inflammation in cattle. Thus, hemp may be a natural way to decrease stress and inflammation related to production practices such as transportation and weaning.”

Researchers also found that cattle fed feed with industrial hemp had a higher rate of lying. This can help digestion as it helps animals to produce saliva and chew their food. It was found that although cannabinoids in industrial hemp could be detected in some animals, their levels did not change over time.

“Our new research helps us better understand how cannabinoids present in industrial hemp interact with bovine physiology and pharmacology,” Kleinhenz said. “For instance, we now know that repeated daily doses of CBDA via feeding hemp does not result in accumulation of cannabinoids in the blood. Additionally, it solidified previous research and shows that each cannabinoid has its own absorption and elimination profile.”

Kleinhenz stated that it is crucial to have the first data from the research team if industrial hemp will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Association of American Feed Control Officials as feed for livestock. Kleinhenz also stated that further research will be required to determine if industrial hemp has the same effects on stress in animals who are subjected to stressful conditions.

“Further work is needed to determine if cannabinoids can alter the stress response in cattle during stressful times such as transportation and weaning, but we hope this research is a step forward in the right direction.”

Funding for the research was provided by a grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The full study, “Short term feeding of industrial hemp with a high cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) content increases lying behavior and reduces biomarkers of stress and inflammation in Holstein steers,” was published online this month by the journal Scientific Reports