Interest in using herbs (like Echinacea) as dietary supplements for farm animals is increasing
Due to the tendency to return to natural feeding and the recent ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, the need to find alternative dietary growth promoters and immune modulators are required.
In addition, these grownth promoters must:
1) Be safe and economical
2) Have significant, sustainable and beneficial impact on animal health and production
3) Its application and storage should be simple
4) Do not contribute to environmental pollution
5) Be acceptable by consumers
Therefore, interest in using herbs (like Echinacea) as dietary supplements for farm animals is increasing.
Echinacea is a hardy perennial plant indigenous to North America, which belongs to the Asteraceae or Compositae plant family and includes nine different species. Of these species Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida have medical properties. Echinacea extracts and preparations have been used traditionally for individuals suffering from mouth sores, toothache, colds, tonsillitis, septic diseases, snakebite, coughs and general inflammatory conditions, due to its mechanism of action relating to its ability to stimulate the immune system.
Echinacea treatment results in an increase of various cytokines, lymphocytes, and phagocytises activity. Generally, Echinacea is thought to create activity in the immune system by stimulating T-cell production, phagocytosis, lymphocytic activity, cellular respiration, activity against tumour cell (thought its application is debatable), and inhibiting hyaluronidase enzyme secretion. The chemical analysis of the plants in the genus Echinacea has identified seven groups of medically important components including polysaccharides, flavonoids, caffeic acid derivatives, essential oils, polyacetylenes, alkylamides, and miscellaneous chemicals. Some experts believe that the polysaccharides are primary active ingredients for immune modulating effects.
It appears that the immune-stimulating effects of Echinacea result from polysaccharides surrounding tissue cells and thereby providing protection from bacterial and pathogenic invasion. The polysaccharide components have also been shown to promote tissue regeneration by stimulating fibroblasts and inhibiting the enzyme hyaluronidase, which breaks down the intracellular cement called hyaluronic acid.
Regard to its use in animal feed, it can be concluded:
The Echinacea Purpurea is able to increase the ability of polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) to kill target cells. In this way, supplementation with Echinacea leads to a positive effect of immune function in calves in transition.
Echinacea is also used as immune booster to compliment a healthy immune system of horses. The best way to use Echinacea is to supplement at the first signs of illness or infection. Echinacea administration also increases the number of red blood cells and haemoglobin, showing its effect on the oxygen transport mechanism.
Administration of Echinacea in feed leads a better feed conversion ratio. The intermittent application of E. purpurea juices in laying hens feed increases the number of lymphocytes and total leucocytes.
Preparations made from Echinacea purpurea have been reported to improve swine health, performance, and meat quality. Supplementation of E. purpurea in pig diets improves body weight gain and feed conversion, reduced cholesterol contents of meat and improved its lightness.
Intermittent application of E. purpurea juice improved health of pigs by increasing number of lymphocytes and leucocytes and increased phagocytosis rate of granulocytes. The beneficial effects of E. purpurea supplementation on performance, weight gain and quality of meat showed that it can improve performance as well as maintain health, by reducing the incidences of diarrhoea and disease outbreak, by stimulating the immune system.
The toxicity of Echinacea sp. appears to be very low. The results of experiments using different preparations and products of Echinacea sp. on various livestock species did not show any negative effects or signs of toxicity. There was no negative effect of E. purpurea juice supplementation on performance as well as liver functions in broilers.
Echinacea is one of the few herbs that are extensively researched. Present research on the use of E. purpurea in livestock is still limited but available results indicate positive effects in terms of weight gain, feed utilization and improved meat quality in poultry and swine. Stimulation of the immune system was also observed in cattle, horse, poultry and swine.