Phytochemicals Feed Additive For Cattles

As the world faces increasing concerns about antibiotic resistance and sustainable farming practices, cattle farmers are seeking alternative methods to maintain animal health and productivity. One such emerging solution is the use of phytochemical feed additives. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds that occur in foods and plants grown on pastures, and display antimicrobial, antioxidant and immunostimulatory properties. Phytochemicals feed additives have been proposed for decades as a replacement for traditional growth promoters, but their effects on performance have not been consistent. Currently, phytochemicals are being evaluated as alternatives to antibiotics and antimicrobial growth promoters for meat animals (cattle, poultry, pig), further research is needed to define their use in the various links of the meat production chain and clarify their benefits.

What are Phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring compounds found in plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, including terpenoids, phenols, carotenoids, and anti-oxidants.  These compounds exhibit a range of biological activities, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties. Their primary function in plants is to protect against external threats, such as pests, UV radiation, and diseases.

When added to cattle feed, phytochemicals are thought to provide similar protective benefits within the animals’ bodies, leading to improved overall health and performance. They are generally recognised as safe (GRAS), have the potential to replace traditional growth promoters in animal production.

Types of Phytochemicals for Feed Additives

While numerous phytochemicals have potential applications in animal feed, some of the most commonly studied and utilized include:

Quillaja saponins


Tannins are a class of polyphenolic compounds found in plants, such as oak and chestnut tree bark. Due to their astringent properties, tannins extract can bind to proteins and other organic compounds in the gastrointestinal tract, potentially reducing harmful bacterial populations and promoting gut health.

Essential Oils

Derived from aromatic plants, essential oils (EOs) contain a vast array of volatile compounds with antimicrobial and antioxidant activities. Common EOs used in animal feed include oregano oil, thyme, and cinnamon. These EOs can support the immune system, balance gut microflora, and improve nutrient absorption.


Saponins are glycoside compounds found in a variety of plants, such as soybeans and alfalfa. They have been shown to enhance nutrient utilization, decrease ammonia emissions from manure, and aid in overall gut health.

Benefits of Phytochemical Feed Additives

Promote Animal Health

A phytochemicals feed additive can reduce the risk of disease in cattle due to their anti-microbial and antioxidant properties. These compounds may help control antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella, which are associated with poor growth performance and high mortality rates in animals.

Phytochemicals can also improve gut health by modulating the intestinal microbiota. Moreover, they can increase the activity of specific digestive enzymes and decrease the bacterial population. Furthermore, the addition of phytochemicals to the diet decreases ammonia and methane emissions from the rumen. This may be due to the inhibition of the microbial urease enzyme.

By offering natural support to the immune system and reducing inflammation, phytochemicals can help maintain the overall health and well-being of cattle.  This, in turn, can lead to enhanced productivity, including improved weight gain, reduced instances of disease, and increased milk yield in dairy cattle.

Increased feed efficiency

Phytochemicals are plant compounds with several biological activities that improve rumen fermentation, decrease lipid oxidation and enhance meat quality.  Some phytochemicals also have antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. There are many different phytochemicals that can be used in livestock feed.

For example, tannins and black pepper have been shown to increase milk yield and component composition, benefit rumen fermentation, and prevent oxidative stress and immunity. This can be a very effective way to provide optimum nutrition for animals. However, there is still a need for more research on these additives to understand how they work and what their impact is throughout the production chain.

Reduced feed costs

Phytochemicals have been used as alternative livestock nutritive dietary supplements, they contain a spectrum of vital bioactive phytochemicals that are essential for animal growth and development.  Grazing animals eat a wider range of plants on pasture and accumulate higher concentrations of these phytochemicals than their grain-fed counterparts. These health-promoting phytochemicals can increase the level of bioavailable protein, zinc, iron, and other nutrients in livestock’s bodies.

They are also known to have anti-oxidative and antimicrobial properties, which can contribute to reducing diseases caused by bacteria and viruses.  The use of phytochemicals for livestock can reduce feed costs by preventing the need to add antibiotic growth promoters.  Several studies have shown that using phytochemicals as a supplement to animal diets has improved production parameters, including weight gain and feed intake, while also enhancing the quality of meat and milk.

Improved meat quality

Increasing the oxidative stability of meat through the use of herb extract for feeding is an important step in improving the nutritional profile of livestock products. Meats with increased oxidative stability have been associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer and also more acceptable to consumers. Several studies have shown that including herbs in diets improves meat quality and reduces the risk of disease. These effects are mainly related to the decrease of lipid oxidation and increased PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) content in meat. The phytochemicals are also believed to increase the palatability of feed by stimulating olfactory nerves and taste buds, this increases feed intake and productive performance.

Mate is a promising feed additive that contains a high content of alkaloids and phenolic acids, and may be used to improve meat oxidative stability. It is recognized as a safe and non-toxic feed additive. The results showed that the meat of the animals treated with mate extract had enhanced oxidative stability. In addition, the meat was more tender and had a higher CLA content.

Tackling Antibiotic Resistance

The overuse of antibiotics in livestock production has been a primary contributor to antibiotic resistance. By using phytochemical feed additives, farmers can decrease their reliance on antibiotics, significantly reducing the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerging within farming operations.

In a word, phytochemicals are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that are beneficial for the health and well-being of humans and animals alike. They are particularly important in countries where nutritive dietary resources are reduced. The use of phytochemicals in a feed additive form is a growing trend worldwide as a way to reduce non-nutritive chemical and antibiotic feed additives.