According to researchers at Penn State, animals being handled or transported can become so stressed that they don't eat or drink and may lose weight.

Gatorade all around. Researchers Lowell Wilson, professor of animal science, and Darron Smith, project assistant, found that when they offered livestock a little "Gatorade for animals" - actually an electrolyte-restoring liquid similar to the sports drink for humans - it helped decrease the significant weight loss that occurs in animals when they are being transported.

According to the two researchers, calves, pigs and lambs typically lose weight when transported. Smith explains that weight loss can be as much as 10% due to environmental and physiological factors.

Testing one, two, three groups. The researchers transported pigs, lambs and calves 50 miles, held them for 4 hrs. in unfamiliar pens and then moved them another 50 miles. Animals were divided into three groups: one group stayed home, one group went on the trip and had access to water, and the third group also traveled but drank the electrolyte-enhanced liquid. They were weighed before and after their trips, 24 hrs. later and 48 hrs. later.

The travelers were videotaped during transport to track loss of balance, aggression or position changes. During the 4-hr. holding period, eating, drinking and other behaviors were tallied. Results showed that the water-fed animals spent more time lying or standing in their pens, whereas the "Gatorade-fed" animals ate and drank like football fans on a Sunday afternoon.

All animals lost weight during transport, but the electrolyte-fed animals tended to lose less weight than the water-fed animals.

"We think that an increase in liquids and electrolyte consumption may promote feed consumption during stressful events like handling and transporting to auctions," Wilson says.

"Electrolyte-fed animals didn't demonstrate the fasting and binge-eating seen in water-fed animals so they didn't have the large weight losses and subsequent large feed intakes that water-fed animals did. This results in animals that maintain a more constant weight through the transportation process."

Pigs showed the most benefit from the electrolytes, losing even less weight than the lambs and calves during transportation. Wilson says the benefits were especially evident in hot weather.

For more information, contact Dr. Lowell L. Wilson, The Pennsylvania State University, Dept. FIN, 324 Henning Bldg., University Park, PA 16802, 814/865-5491 or e-mail him at LWilson@das.psu.edu