Can the use of appeasing pheromones effectively mitigate stress in dairy calves?

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/AzmanL
© GettyImages/AzmanL

Related tags stress dairy calves

Results from a US study suggest a positive impact from the application of appeasing pheromones in the young animals.

The findings of that research indicate that an oil-based product demonstrated reductions in diarrhea incidence, lowered mortality risk, and increased body weight in preweaned dairy calves.

The study led by Dr Reinaldo Cooke, professor at Texas A&M Animal Sciences Department, investigated the effects of FerAppease, a product containing an analogue of the naturally occurring maternal bovine appeasing substance (mBAS), on the health and performance of preweaned Holstein calves. A paper, published in The Bovine Practitioner journal by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP)​, shed light on the potential benefits of this novel approach.

FerAppease, a patent-pending mixture of fatty acids dissolved in a mineral oil solution, is Global Animal Partnership (GAP) and Non-Hormone Treated Cattle (NHTC) program approved, said Rodrigo Bicalho, CEO, Fera Diagnostics and Biologicals Corp.

“All ingredients in FerAppease are US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for human consumption; FerAppease is also only applied to healthy animals topically on the skin, above the nose and behind the head,” he told us.

Nearly six million doses of the product were sold in the US in 2023, he added. “FerAppease has been registered in Canada this year, and we will also enter the Mexican market in 2024. Mexico did not require a product registration.”

Stress busters

The authors of the Texas A&M study highlighted the role appeasing pheromones can play in alleviating stress among cattle, particularly during critical periods like weaning, vaccination, and transport. Maternal pheromones, naturally produced by lactating cows, play a vital role in mitigating stress for their offspring. The replication of these pheromones, such as mBAS, presents one strategy for enhancing dairy calf health and performance, they maintain.

While previous studies have shown benefits in beef cattle systems, the efficacy of such products in dairy calf-raising facilities has been underexplored until now, according to the team.

Hence the reason for their trial, which was conducted on a commercial dairy farm in New York; it involved 410 calves, split evenly between treatment and control groups.

Researchers determined that FerAppease reduced the incidence of diarrhea from 70.8% in the control group to 58.6% in the treatment group and mortality risk was statistically lower for the treatment group at 2.4% compared to the control cohort at 7.8%. In addition, FerAppease-treated calves were 9.4 pounds heavier on average than control calves seven days after they were moved from the individual hutches to the collective pens.

A FerAppease treatment costs about $3 per head for adult cattle and $1.50 per head for calves, according to Fera Diagnostics and Biologicals Corp. The product doesn’t require a veterinarian’s prescription or a Veterinary Feed Directive plan, and there are no meat withholding requirements. 

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