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Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research

On-line version ISSN 2219-0635
Print version ISSN 0030-2465

Onderstepoort j. vet. res. vol.76 n.2 Pretoria  2009




Molasses as a possible cause of an "endocrine disruptive syndrome" in calves



M.S. MasgoretI; C.J. BothaI; J.G. MyburghI; T.W. NaudéI; L. ProzeskyI; V. NaidooI; J.H. van WykII; E.J. PoolIII; G.E. SwanI

IDepartment of Paraclinical Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Pretoria, Private Bag X04, Onderstepoort, 0110 South Africa
IIEcophysiology Laboratory, Department of Botany and Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch, 7600 South Africa
IIIDepartment of Medical Bioscience, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, 7535 South Africa




During the mid 1990s a potentially serious, chronic syndrome was reported in well-managed beef and dairy herds from unrelated parts of South Africa. Farmers reported that it manifested as various combinations of decreased production, decreased weaning masses, apparent immune breakdown in previously immunocompetent animals, increased reproductive disorders, various mineral imbalances in non-deficient areas and goitre, noticeable as enlarged thyroid glands. The farmers associated this syndrome with certain batches of sugar cane molasses and molasses-based products. The syndrome was reminiscent of an "endocrine disruptive syndrome". The objective of this study was to evaluate the suspected endocrine disruptive effect of molasses included in cattle feed. Using existing in vitro assays, four batches of molasses syrup were screened for possible inclusion in a calf feeding trial. Two batches were selected for the trial. Thirty-two, 4- to 6-week-old, weaned Holstein bull calves were included in the single phase, three treatment, parallel design experiment. In two of the groups of calves, two different batches of molasses were included in their rations respectively. The control group was fed a ration to which no molasses was added, but which was balanced for energy and mineral content. The mass gain of the calves was recorded over the 6-month study period. The calves were clinically examined every week and clinical pathology parameters, immune responses and endocrine effects were regularly evaluated. Even though endocrine disrupting effects were detected with the in vitro screening assays, these could not be reproduced in the calves in the experiment. The two batches of molasses utilized in the calf feeding trial did not induce major differences in any of the parameters measured, with the exception of a lower mass gain in one of the molasses-fed groups (Group 1), which tended towards significance. The results of the study indicate that the two batches of molasses had no endocrine disruptive or immunosuppressive effects in calves.

Keywords: Endocrine disruptive compound, endocrine disruptive syndrome, Holstein calves, sugar cane molasses



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Accepted for publication 28 October 2008-Editor



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