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Plasma and tissue α-tocopherol concentrations and meat colour stability in sheep grazing saltbush (Atriplex spp.)

Pearce, K.L., Masters, D.G., Smith, G.M., Jacob, R.H. and Pethick, D.W. (2005) Plasma and tissue α-tocopherol concentrations and meat colour stability in sheep grazing saltbush (Atriplex spp.). Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 56 (7). pp. 663-672.

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Dry senesced pastures available during the summer and autumn period in Western Australia and other areas with a Mediterranean climate are low in vitamin E. The use of expensive and labour-intensive supplements to prevent nutritional myopathy induced by vitamin E deficiency in weaner sheep is common. Low vitamin E concentrations in the muscle preslaughter can also reduce the shelf life of meat. There is growing interest in incorporating saltbush into farming systems in Western Australia. The potential for saltbush to boost the vitamin E status of sheep and improve the shelf life of meat was investigated. Fifty (2 × 25) 18-month-old Merino hogget wethers (average liveweight 48 kg) were grazed on either a saltbush-dominant saline pasture or on a ‘control’ dry pasture, stubble plot for 14 weeks. At the start of the experiment, all animals were orally supplemented with 2500 IU of dl-α-tocopherol acetate in 6.25 mL solution. The α-tocopherol content in saltbush was 139 and 116 mg/kg dry matter for old man and river saltbush, respectively. Concentrations of α-tocopherol were measured in plasma at Weeks 0, 4, 8, and 12 and in muscle and liver samples taken at slaughter. Grazing on saltbush significantly elevated α-tocopherol concentrations in the liver and muscle compared with grazing on dry pasture, well above the threshold for vitamin E inadequacy (P < 0.001). Plasma α-tocopherol concentrations in sheep fed saltbush increased up to Week 8 and then decreased until the end of the experiment as availability of saltbush declined (P < 0.05). Plasma α-tocopherol in sheep fed dry pasture increased in the first 4 weeks due to the initial vitamin E treatment but declined thereafter, indicating that the pasture was low in vitamin E. The high muscle concentrations of α-tocopherol in sheep fed saltbush also improved colour stability and may have had an influence on drip and cooking loss. The meat from the saltbush-grazed sheep was moister but drip and cooking loss was the same as from the drier meat of the control sheep. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that saltbush is a potential vitamin E source for sheep.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Publisher: CSIRO
Copyright: © CSIRO 2005
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