Tackling Stress in Sheep through the Addition of Natural Feed Supplements

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Farmers are being challenged to elevate their animals' standard of living due to consumer demands, public health concerns and a developing understanding of the physiological effects of stress. In order to mitigate the negative effects of stress, we need a way to identify and address them. The first objective of this project is to investigate means to lower stress levels in sheep (Ovis aries) using a cost effective/natural product. A treatment group of sheep was supplemented with Matricaria chamomilla, commonly known as chamomile, and then run through a stress test. After initial analysis, chamomile fed sheep showed both lower average (139 bpm vs. 162 bpm) and max heart rates (184 bpm vs. 195 bpm) during a stress test. Chamomile fed sheep also had lower salivary cortisol both prior to and after exposer to stress stimuli. The second objective of this project is to develop a non-invasive approach to monitoring stress in sheep. Fluctuations in the microbiome have previously been linked to changes in stress; therefore, the relative abundance of fecal bacterial species may act as a proxy for animal health and relative stress. If the specific microbial profiles to an animal's stress level are correlated, monitoring changes in the microbiome may provide a new way of gauging stress in sheep. This knowledge can be used to develop better animal husbandry techniques and improve welfare among livestock.
Thesis completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Alfred University Honors Program.
Honors thesis, Stress, Sheep, Biology