research into herbal remedies in the farmyard
could soon see pigswill garnished with garlic
and cows chewing on cinnamon-flavoured cud.
With an EU ban on antibiotic growth promoters
in animal feed from 2006, alternatives need
to be found urgently. The use of plant extracts,
once dismissed as quack science, is attracting
growing interest from the industry.
Dr Henry Greathead, researcher at the department
of biology, is experimenting with essential
oils from thyme as a treatment for coccidiosis,
a disease of chickens currently controlled
with in-feed antibiotics.
Dr Greathead said: “Antibiotics are
excellent growth promoters, and the ban will
put EU farmers at a competitive disadvantage
with producers elsewhere, so we are trying
to find sustainable alternatives. Plant extracts
are natural and their production would help
ensure a diverse agriculture. Above all they
are acceptable to the consumer.”
University project is investigating the use
of extracts from garlic and aniseed to increase
digestive efficiency in dairy cows. Plant
extracts may also replace the use of growth-promoting
hormones, which are used to boost animal production
in many countries, but are banned in the EU.
Greathead said: “It’s unlikely
that plant extracts alone will ever be as
effective as antibiotics, but I’m confident
that we can maintain high levels of production
with good husbandry – and without needing
antibiotics and steroids.”