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Open Access Research article

Peripheral and gastrointestinal immune systems of healthy cattle raised outdoors at pasture or indoors on a concentrate-based ration

Alexandre Lejeune1, Frank J Monahan1, Aidan P Moloney2, Bernadette Earley2, Alistair D Black2, Deirdre P Campion1, Tanya Englishby1, Petrina Reilly1, John O'Doherty1 and Torres Sweeney1*

Author Affiliations

1 UCD School of Agriculture, Food Science and Veterinary Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

2 Teagasc, Grange Beef Research Centre, Dunsany, Co. Meath, Ireland

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BMC Veterinary Research 2010, 6:19  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-6-19

Published: 31 March 2010

Abstract

Background

Despite an increasing preference of consumers for beef produced from more extensive pasture-based production systems and potential human health benefits from the consumption of such beef, data regarding the health status of animals raised on pasture are limited. The objective of this study was to characterise specific aspects of the bovine peripheral and the gastrointestinal muscosal immune systems of cattle raised on an outdoor pasture system in comparison to animals raised on a conventional intensive indoor concentrate-based system.

Results

A number of in vitro functional tests of immune cells suggested subtle differences between the animals on the outdoor versus indoor production systems. There was a decrease in the number of neutrophils and monocytes engaged in phagocytosis in outdoor cattle (P < 0.01 and P < 0.05, respectively) in comparison to those indoors. Following mitogen stimulation, a lower level of interferon-γ was produced in leukocytes from the outdoor animals (P < 0.05). There was evidence of a gastrointestinal nematode infection in the outdoor animals with elevated levels of serum pepsinogen (P < 0.001), a higher number of eosinophils (P < 0.05) and a higher level of interleukin-4 and stem cell factor mRNA expression (P < 0.05) in the outdoor animals in comparison to the indoor animals. Lower levels of copper and iodine were measured in the outdoor animals in comparison to indoor animals (P < 0.001).

Conclusion

Despite distinctly contrasting production systems, only subtle differences were identified in the peripheral immune parameters measured between cattle raised at pasture in comparison to animals raised on a conventional intensive indoor concentrate-based production system.