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Could hemp have the power to calm restless livestock?

Published Jun 18, 2022 09:00 a.m. ET
iStock / Clara Bastian

Researchers have long focused on the health benefits and risks of cannabis and hemp compounds for humans, but a team from Kansas State University decided to use 10 male Holstein cattle as subjects instead. We have numerous questions on the subject to answer; however, what the team really wanted to know is how cannabinoids in hemp might impact the activity of the beasts, blood inflammatory, and stress biomarkers. In simpler terms, these university researchers wanted to determine whether or not hemp might have a calming effect on cattle.

Why we might want to calm livestock like cattle

You might be thinking that it's an odd goal to essentially seek to mildly sedate livestock, but the truth is that this effect can do a world of good for both the animals and the farmers that raise them. Whether it's big changes on the farm stressing out a herd of cattle or events requiring transport, which can be incredibly scary for all those involved, having the power to deliver some relief to livestock can make farming safer and, in some ways, far more ethical. If we can improve the quality of life for these animals, we should be taking advantage of that, which can only happen with further study, using techniques like the researchers from Kansas State University.

The study

For this study, 16 male Holstein cattle were the test subjects, and half of them were fed industrial hemp to see whether or not it could alleviate stress. Hemp contains CBD, and with so many people using this non-psychoactive cannabinoid to ease stress and improve physical well-being, it only made sense to test this theory for livestock. To measure its effect, researchers measured the cattle's activity and took blood samples, and what they found was impressive.

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The first group of 8 cattle was given 25 grams of industrial hemp combined with 200 grams of grain over the course of 2 weeks and an analysis of those samples revealed a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as a reduction in the inflammatory biomarker prostaglandin E2, thus suggesting the livestock were likely much less stressed, even after eating such a small amount. It is because of these results that researchers and farmers now believe that hemp could be a powerful tool to improve the overall quality of life for large livestock.

They also discovered the hemp group spent far more time laying down, an action that can aid in digestion, which is also excellent news for the health of these incredible animals. At the same time, samples disproved the belief that cannabinoids like CBD may build up in the steers system much like what we see with humans, suggesting that livestock process cannabinoids a little bit differently than people, even if they can see some of the same benefits.

Of course, further research is needed to verify the results of this study and to determine an ideal dose of CBD for cattle long before we'll find hemp feed becomes a staple on the market. However, these results do suggest that we could calm livestock with this cheap, effective tool that comes with few to no side effects, and that's music to the ears of farmers who handle these creatures day in and day out.

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CANNABIS WIKI CONFERENCE & EXPO
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