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Revista mexicana de ciencias pecuarias

versión On-line ISSN 2448-6698versión impresa ISSN 2007-1124

Rev. mex. de cienc. pecuarias vol.10 no.2 Mérida abr./jun. 2019 

Technical notes

DL-malic acid supplementation improves the carcass characteristics of finishing Pelibuey lambs

José Lenin Loya-Olguina 

Fidel Ávila Ramosb 

Sergio Martínez Gonzalezc 

Iván Adrián García Galiciad 

Alma Delia Alarcón Rojod 

Francisco Escalera Valentea  c  * 

a Universidad Autónoma de Nayarit. Posgrado en Ciencias Biológico Agropecuarias, Tepic, Nayarit, México.

bUniversidad de Guanajuato. Programa de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia, Guanajuato, México.

cUniversidad Autónoma de Nayarit. Unidad Académica de Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia. Compostela Nayarit, México.

d Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua. Facultad de Zootecnia y Ecología, Chihuahua, Chih. México.


The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effect of DL-malic acid addition in Pelibuey finishing diet on average daily gain, carcass characteristics and non-carcass components. Sixteen (16) male lambs with a mean body weight of 27 ± 1.92 kg, were used in a 48-d feeding experiment. Animals were fed a high-energy diet containing corn stover, as the only forage source, with and without the DL-malic acid (MA) addition. Animals were assigned randomly in two treatments with eight lambs each: 1) Addition of 4 g of DL-malic acid per kg of feed and 2) Control (diet 1 without MA). Four male lambs of each treatment were harvested after feeding experiment to measure carcass characteristics and non-carcass components. Lambs fed with MA presented a larger (P<0.05) Longissimus lumborum muscle area. Nevertheless, there were no effects (P>0.05) of MA on daily average weight gain and non-carcass components weight. In conclusion, addition of 4 g DL-malic acid to a high-energy feed enhances muscle accretion, which improves carcass quality of finishing lambs.

Key words: Malic acid; Animal performance; Carcass characteristics


El objetivo del presente estudio fue evaluar el efecto de la adición de DL-ácido málico en dietas de borregos Pelibuey en finalización sobre ganancia diaria de peso, características de la canal y componentes que no son parte de la canal. Se utilizaron 16 corderos machos de 27 ± 1.92 kg de peso vivo durante los 48 d de la prueba de alimentación. Los animales fueron alimentados con una dieta alta en energía que contenía rastrojo de maíz, como la única fuente de forraje, con y sin DL-ácido málico (MA). Los animales fueron asignados al azar a uno de los dos tratamientos con 8 borregos cada uno: 1) 4 g de MA por kilogramo de alimento y 2) Control (sin MA). Cuatro borregos de cada tratamiento fueron sacrificados, después de la prueba de alimentación, para medir las características de la canal y los componentes que no son parte de la canal. Los borregos alimentados con MA presentaron una mayor (P<0.05) área del musculo Longissimus lumborum. Sin embargo, no hubo efecto (P>0.05) del MA sobre la ganancia diaria de peso y peso de los componentes que no son parte de la canal. En conclusión, la adición de 4 g de DL-ácido málico, en alimento con alto contenido energético, promueve el crecimiento muscular lo que mejora la calidad de la canal de los borregos en finalización.

Palabras clave: Acido málico; Comportamiento animal; Características de la canal

Meat production is the main purpose1 of ovine farms in many regions of the world. While ovine meat quality can be improved under an intensive feed system utilizing high grain diets2, feed costs and ruminal disorders, mainly acidosis, increase. It is necessary to search for alternative feeding strategies to enhance the energy efficiency of rations and prevent metabolic disorders. Studies on malic acid (MA) have reported its ability to stimulate lactate utilization by Selenomonas ruminantium3, which can account for up to 51 % of the total viable bacterial count in rumen4,5. MA has also been shown to cause increased pH6, microbial protein3 and total volatile fatty acid production7. Increases in pH, total volatile acids and propionic acid had been observed utilizing ground corn and soluble starch to feed microorganisms in vitro8 since the hydrogen is utilized to convert malic acid to propionate9; decrease in hydrogen availability reduce the methane production10.

Results obtained with MA supplementation are not constant11. The roughage and concentrate proportions in rations influence the success of this additive12, with more favorable results being found with diets containing lower levels of forage13 in which MA is naturally present14,15. Limited in vivo research has been conducted to evaluate the effects of MA on ruminant performance9,16. Therefore, researchers recommend further studies to test its effects on lamb performance2.

Regarding with the influence of MA on carcass characteristics, there is evidence of an increase of hot carcass yield due to a greater average daily gain with malic acid inclusion in the concentrate of cross male lambs17, but, some authors have not found effect on carcass yield of heifers18. The authors of this study are not aware of information relating to the effects of DL-malic acid on the productive performance and carcass characteristics of Pelibuey, a hair sheep breed (HSB).

The number of HSB has increased in several Latin American countries due to their ease of management and their resistance to parasites19 and elevated environmental temperature and humidity. However, HSBs have presented lower daily gain and poorer meat quality than wool breeds20. It should be noted that consumer demands for lean meats are increasing21. The objective of this study was evaluate the effect of DL-malic acid addition in the concentrated finishing diet of Pelibuey male lambs on average daily gain, carcass characteristics and non-carcass components.

Animal management procedures were conducted within the guidelines of locally approved techniques for animal use and care (NOM-051-ZOO-1995; humanitarian care of animals during mobilization of animals; NOM-062-ZOO-1995: technical specifications for the care and use of laboratory animals. Livestock farms, farms, centers of production, reproduction and breeding, zoos and exhibition hall must meet the basic principles of animal welfare; NOM-024-ZOO-1995; animal health stipulations and characteristics during transportation of animals.

This experiment was conducted at a commercial Pelibuey farm called Los Limones, located in Nayarit, Mexico (21° 03' 48.11" N and 104° 31' 34.76" W). Sixteen (16) male lambs with a mean body weight of 27 ± 1.92 kg were used. Animals were divided randomly into two treatment groups of eight lambs each and placed in elevated pens with plastic slat flooring equipped with shade, feed and automatic waterers, with the two treatments comprising the addition of 4 g of DL-malic acid (MA) per kg of feed, and the control (the diet from the first treatment but without additive). The DL-Malic acid was purchased from the Sigma-Aldrich Chemical Company (St. Louis, MO, USA). Animals were fed ad libitum once daily at 0800 h. The first 7 d were used for adaptation to treatment followed by a 48 d trial. The composition and ingredients of the experimental diets are shown in Table 1. Basal diet was prepared weekly. Batch was divided in two parts, and MA was added to one part; mixing MA with 20 kg of feed followed by the incorporation with the rest of the feed.

Table 1 Ingredient and chemical composition of the experimental diets1 

Ingredient, % Control2 MA2
Cracked corn 12.48 12.43
Sorghum grain 53.05 52.84
Canola meal 9.82 9.78
Soybean meal 4.91| 4.89
Cane molasses 7.66 7.63
Corn straw 6.48 6.46
Minerals 2.95 2.94
Calcium 0.98 0.98
Sodium bicarbonate 0.69 0.68
Grease 0.98 0.98
DL-malic acid - 0.39
Chemical composition, %
Dry matter 88.70 89.09
Crude protein 14.01 13.95
NE g, Mcal/kg 1.14 1.13
NE m, Mcal/kg 1.77 1.76
Crude fiber 4.12 4.10
Neutral detergent fiber 16.44 16.37
Acid detergent fiber 5.76 5.74
Ether extract 3.88 3.87

1Expressed on a dry-matter basis.

NE g = Net energy of gain.

NE m = Net energy of maintenance.

The daily feed allotments for each pen were adjusted to allow for minimal (<5 %) feed refusal at the feed bunk. Daily adjustments were undertaken to either increase or decrease daily feed delivery and weekly intake was recorded. One sample per week of the feed that had been offered to the animals was collected in order to determine dry matter content (DM, method 930,15) in accordance with the AOAC22.

Initial, weekly and final body weights were obtained after the animals’ morning meal using an electronic scale (TOR REY TIL/S:107-2691, TORREY electronics Inc, Houston TX, USA). Body weight gains were calculated by subtracting the previous weight from the current weight, while the average daily body weight gains were calculated by dividing body weight gain by the number of days that had passed since the last weighing.

Four male lambs for each treatment were harvested in an ovine slaughterhouse (Asociación de Ovinocultores del Centro de Nayarit) after feeding period. Hot carcass weight was recorded immediately after animals were slaughtered. The carcasses were then covered with plastic to avoid cooling loss, and chilled for 24 h at -4 °C. Carcasses were ribbed between the 12th and 13th rib and back fat thickness measured with a metallic rule, with the Longissimus lumborum muscle then drawn on an acetate sheet in order to obtain the Longissimus muscle area (LMA) using a plastic grid.

Data was analyzed using a completely randomized design. The significance of the differences (P<0.05) between treatment means were determined using the Student t-test for independent samples utilizing the SPSS software23.

The productive performance of finishing male lambs is shown in Table 2. In this study, lambs supplemented with DL-malic acid (MA) had similar (P>0.05) average daily gains, feed intake, feed efficiency and initial and final body weight compared to the non-supplemented ones.

Table 2 Productive performance of finishing Pelibuey male lambs 

Variable Control1 MA SEM P-value
Days of feed 48 48
Male lambs, n 8 8
Initial BW, kg 27.80 25.90 1.92 0.69
Final BW, kg 38.25 38.50 0.94 0.75
DMI, g/d 983 1022 64.75 0.69
ADG, g/d 218 263 58.05 0.87
FE, g/g 0.233 0.247 0.6 0.89

1Control = no malic acid supplementation.

MA= 4 g of malic acid supplementation/kg of feed; SEM= Standard error of the mean.

BW= Body weight, DMI= dry matter intake; ADG= average daily gain; FE= feed efficiency.

The influence of MA on the lambs’ carcass characteristics is presented in Table 3. The addition of malic acid to male finishing diets did not alter (P>0.05) hot carcass weight, back fat thickness (FT), or dressing percentage. Longissimus muscle area (LMA) was significantly (P<0.01) larger in supplemented animals, while the MA did not affect non-carcass components (Table 4).

Table 3 Carcass characteristics of Pelibuey male finishing lambs 

Variable Control1 MA SEM P-value
HCW, kg 21.5 21.3 0.67 0.87
Dressing2, % 56.2 55.3 0.81 0.23
LL area, cm2 11.8 13.0 0.42 0.002
Fat thickness, cm 0.105 0.125 0.03 0.67

1 Control = no malic acid supplementation.

MA= 4 g of malic acid supplementation/kg of feed; SEM= standard error of the mean.

HCW= hot carcass weight; LL= Longissimus lumborum muscle.

2 Dressing = (HCW/Final weight)*100.

Table 4 Non-carcass components of Pelibuey male finishing lambs 

Variable1 Control2 MA SEM P-value
Skin 11.04 12.16 0.52 0.08
Feet 2.15 2.19 0.66 0.77
Heart 0.48 0.51 0.05 0.60
Liver 2.25 2.26 0.15 0.92
Lungs 1.99 2.01 0.90 0.15
Spleen 0.30 0.38 0.01 0.06

1Weight of each non-carcass component is expressed as a percentage of final body weight.

2 Control = no malic acid supplementation.

MA = 4 g of malic acid supplementation/kg of feed; SEM= Standard error of the mean.

Feed intake was similar for both groups 0.983 and 1.022 kg for the control and supplemented animals, respectively. Results of other authors show that malic acid does not alter the DMI of finishing lambs2, lactating Pelibuey ewes24, dairy goats15, dairy cows8,25,26, and feedlot cattle27. Some authors mention that doses of MA lower than 2.6 % do not affect DMI28. In this experiment, a 0.4 % MA level was evaluated because similar doses were used in previous research conducted with both the same2,24 and different breeds of sheep11.

Average daily gains (ADG) observed with MA corresponded to the mean weight for Pelibuey lambs fed high energy diets29,30. The null effect of MA on ADG in this experiment is in agreement with other reports on the MA supplementation of lambs(11;31) and bull calves8 fed with a high concentrate diet. However, some studies have reported the positive effect of MA on the daily live weight gain of cattle fed with a high concentrate diet16. Malate content varies with plant age (mature < early) and plant type (gramineous < legumes)32. Therefore, a significant ADG increase was expected since lambs were fed with a high concentrate diet comprising only corn straw (which is low in malate content) as source of forage. Incorporation of DL-malate into soluble starch and cracked corn fermentations with mixed ruminal microorganisms have modify final pH, CH4, and volatile fatty acids (VFA) in a manner analogous to ionophore effects33. However, according to this experiment, as other factors such as days on feed may influence the effects of MA, not only the concentrate forage ratio or type of grain should be criteria for the positive effects of this additive on ADG. The degree to which MA effects ADG may depends on diet composition11, in terms of grain type, dosage, chemical form (salt or free acid) or the productive stage of the animal8. MA levels ranging from 0.6 to 1.1 % have enhanced the ADG of steers fed with high energy corn-based diets34. Also, steer ADG have increased linearly as more DL-malate was added to high energy diets based on rolled corn16. This study used a lower level of MA than 0.06 %34, due to the favorable results obtained in a previous experiment on lactating Pelibuey ewes fed with a similar diet24. It is likely that significant differences could be found by prolonging the feeding experiment because ADG differences among treatments tended to be higher the more feeding days passed. However, in the region of Mexico where this study was conducted, retail customers, looking for leaner carcasses, prefer animals with a final body weight (FBW) of between 35 and 40 kg.

Hot carcass weight (HCW) and dressing percentage were not influenced by MA supplementation. Similarly, some researchers reported null effect of malate on HCW, cold carcass weight, and dressing percentage when it was added to a Merino lamb diet at 0.4 and 0.8 %11.

The MA supplementation of finishing male lambs increased (P=0.002) L. lumborum muscle area (LMA). Greater LMA is associated with higher yield and wholesale cuts of the carcass35. Malate supplementation have increased nitrogen retention in sheep and steers34. Higher muscle growth may be attributed to an increase of microbial protein production3,36, or to the high availability of propionate converted from the added MA as it ‘sinks’ H2 when reducing methanogenesis in rumen7,37. Both high nitrogen and propionate levels in rumen could increase muscle size firstly by depositing more nitrogen directly into the tissue, and secondly through the higher level of alanine bioavailability produced by the propionate metabolism through gluconeogenesis38. Moreover, higher amounts of propionate lead to the hypertrophy of intramuscular adipocites39 and bovine muscle40. The use of propionate, a primary precursor for gluconeogenesis as energy for production has been documented mainly for milk synthesis. A significant effect of MA has been found in the milk protein yield from early lactation Pelibuey ewes24, early lactation dairy cows28, and mid lactation dairy cows25. This effect is attributed to an increase in microbial efficiency resulting from increased carbohydrate use for microbial N production25. However, propionate could also be used for higher muscle gain, as proposed in this study. Furthermore, percentage corresponding to each tissue may vary considerably among carcasses of similar weight, depending on the breed and type of feed41.

Subcutaneous fat thickness (FT) was not different between treatments. It is likely that MA did not affect subcutaneous fat in Pelibuey sheep because hair sheep breeds deposit a small amount of subcutaneous fat42 and, most importantly, because the animals were harvested young when the fat deposition in pre-formed subcutaneous adiposities is not complete. In this case, higher amounts of ruminal propionate and, subsequently, glucose in the tissue does not result in the formation of higher levels of subcutaneous adiposities, as occurs with intramuscular adiposities39. Typically, body fat increases as harvest weights increase43,44. Thicker subcutaneous fat in Pelibuey lambs and a heavier final weight (>43 kg) have been reported45.

Smooth muscle growth was not affected by MA supplementation, with non-carcass components, expressed as a percentage of final body weight, similar for both treatments. These research results are in agreement with others authors, who found similar increases in total splanchnic tissue across the finishing phase that were consistent with similar rates of live and carcass gain observed in other studies46. There is a negative relationship between carcass residues (organs and offals) and carcass yield47. The weight of organs such as gastrointestinal tract and liver decrease during subnutrition periods48. Therefore, bigger differences in nutrients intake would be necessary to influence the weight of organs.

DL-malic acid supplementation (4 g per kilogram of feed) in finishing male Pelibuey lambs does not significantly improve average daily gain. While DL-malic acid supplementation does improve the Longissimus muscle area, it does not affect non-carcass components. Larger Longissimus muscle area could have a positive economic impact since it implies higher muscle proportion


This work was financed by CONACyT (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia) Project # 147693.

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Received: March 30, 2017; Accepted: May 08, 2018

*Autor de correspondencia:

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