What do beavers and cows have in common? That's what Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) researchers are working to find out.

Researchers have been examining beaver guts for a couple years at AAFC Lethbridge, looking for answers relating to feed efficiency in cattle. The research being done on beaver guts is just a part of their efforts to develop feed enzymes for beef and dairy cattle, which will increase digestibility of poor quality forages.

If this enzyme is developed, producers would then have an alternative source of feed which can replace some higher cost feed materials such as grain.

AAFC microbiologists Dr. Robert Gruninger, says there is a lack of feed enzymes which can improve ruminant's digestion of forage plants.

"Feed enzymes are used widely in the production of swine and poultry. That's because their digestive system isn't as complex as what you find in cows, and those feed enzymes work really well. The problem with developing similar technologies for cows, is that they're already really good at digesting their feed, and a lot of the products that are available haven't really produced economic returns for the producer. We think that's because they haven't found that key enzyme that's missing."

And finding that key enzyme is what Gruninger says their research is all about. They're hoping to find an enzyme, which when added to the cows digestive system, would enhance the digestion of the plant.

Another Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researcher, Dr. Wen Chen, is doing similar research on pandas in Ottawa.

Since beavers are able to digest twigs, and pandas are able to digest bamboo, they thought it would be an interesting place to start looking for these answers.

The research being done on beaver guts is just a small part of an ongoing project.

"We're trying to understand why some cows are better at digesting feed than others. Every cow, every person, every animal has a different group of microbes that live on and in them, and those microbes do various things that are important for the function of that animal. In cows, they're very important for breaking down feed in the stomach."

Gruninger says, the microbes found in beavers are completely different than those in cattle.

"What we're doing now, is we're trying to look at the specific proteins that these microbes in the stomach of the beaver are, and whether or not any of them might be useful as a feed additive in ruminants."

He says, the research is still in the discovery stage, so it will be a while before producers could see a feed additive like this in stores.