Feeding saltbush, a native shrub used to revegetate areas of dryland salinity, to sheep can provide a good dietary source of Vitamin E, which can then help reduce the unsightly browning of meat that can occur if animals are deficient in Vitamin E.
This is the finding of Chelsea Fancote, originally from a Brookton, WA, farm, who began her PhD at The University of Western Australia (UWA) in 2008, researching the potential benefits of saltbush as a source of Vitamin E to improve sheep production, health and meat quality.
To help her further pursue her PhD research, she was recently announced as one of two recipients of the 2011 Mike Carroll Travelling Fellowship. The other is fellow UWA PhD student, Xixi Li.
Ms Fancote and Ms Li this month attended the 8th International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores in Wales, UK, where Ms Fancote presented a poster and discussed her UWA Institute of Agriculture (IOA) research with world leading scientists in her discipline.
She also attended the 8th Annual Meeting of the European Association for Animal production in Norway, where she gave an oral presentation.
Her PhD supervisors are Dr Ian Williams and Professor Phil Vercoe, both of UWA, Dr Hayley Norman of CSIRO and Dr Kelly Pearce of Murdoch University and her PhD research is supported by UWA, CSIRO and Future Farm Industries CRC.
Dr Williams, in a Mike Carroll Travelling Fellowship reference for Ms Fancote to UWA IOA Director, Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, described her results, so far, as "exciting".
"Chelsea chose a degree in agricultural science at UWA because she wanted to contribute to the farming community. During her first class honors, which I supervised, she produced excellent results that are now published, fuelling her desire to start a PhD," Dr Williams said.
Ms Fancote's PhD has investigated the implications for animal production, animal health and meat quality of including saltbush (Atriplex spp.) in sheep diets.
"With salinity such a threat to extensive agriculture in Western Australia, including saltbush could potentially reduce the area lost to productive cropping and the additional biomass could provide a valuable source of green feed as fodder during typically long, dry summers," she said.
"Persistent lack of green feed during summer can lead to vitamin E deficiency and subsequent onset of the potentially fatal disease known as nutritional myopathy.
"Beyond the farm gate, adequate levels of vitamin E in muscle tissue are integral for meat colour and because colour is the main determinant of consumer meat choice, it's extremely important for the sustained growth of the lamb industry," she said.
Key animal production, animal health and meat quality findings from Ms Fancote's PhD field experiments are:
- Saltbush can be used as feed for sheep to maintain liveweight over summer with minimal grain supplementation.
- Carcasses from lambs backgrounded on saltbush are heavier than those fed control pastures.
- Saltbush is an excellent source of vitamin E.
- Grazing saltbush is more effective in improving plasma vitamin E and preventing deficiency than commercially available synthetic vitamin E supplements.
- Meat from animals backgrounded on saltbush is redder and has a longer shelf life than meat from animals without access to saltbush.
At CSIRO, Floreat, Ms Fancote has also been investigating short term feeding of saltbush to young sheep.
She hopes to determine how this improves their vitamin E status, how long sheep need to graze saltbush to adequately boost their vitamin E status and how long this will prevent vitamin E deficiency.
"With animal production at a crossroads, we need farming systems able to cope with our dry climate, while responding to consumer concerns about using synthetic additives in animal diets and without compromising meat quality or whole-farm profitability," Ms Fancote concluded.
The Mike Carroll Travelling Fellowship, a memorial to the late Dr Mike Carroll, former Director General of the WA Department of Agriculture, recognises his devotion to agriculture and selfless efforts to improve the lot of farmers, the wider agricultural community and scientific colleagues.