The natural preservative, Hops, added to beer to ward off bacterial growth may also help in cutting the ammonia produced by cattle, say researchers.
Cattle, deer, sheep, goats and other ruminant animals depend on a slew of naturally occurring bacteria to aid digestion of grass and other fibrous plants in the first of their four stomach chambers, known as the rumen.
According to US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) microbiologist Michael Flythe, the problem comes from one group of bacteria, known as hyper-ammonia-producing bacteria (HABs).
While other bacteria help their bovine hosts convert plant fibres to cud, HABs break down amino acids, a chemical process that produces ammonia and robs the animals of the amino acids they need to build muscle tissue, explains Flythe.
To make up for lost amino acids, cattle growers have to add expensive and inefficient high-protein supplements to their animals' feed.
Flythe, who works at the ARS Forage Animal Production Research Unit (FAPRU) in Lexington, Ky, believes hops can reduce HAB populations.
Flythe put either dried hops flowers or hops extracts in either cultures of pure HAB or a bacterial mix collected from a live cow's rumen.
Both the hops flowers and the extracts inhibited HAB growth and ammonia production.
Flythe and FAPRU plant physiologist Isabelle Kagan have completed a similar project with more typical forage.
They recently identified a compound in red clover that inhibits HAB.
Results of that study appeared in Current Microbiology.
Flythe also collaborated with FAPRU animal scientist Glen Aiken on a study in which hops had a positive effect on the rumen's volatile fatty acid ratios, which are important to ruminant nutrition.