Vitamin Deficiencies

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Riding Out the Shortage and Avoiding the Consequences of Vitamin Deficiency

Vitamin deficiency is serious business when it comes to herd health. It always has been. Add the recent vitamin market volatility stemming from environmental pressures, combined with an internal fire at BASF, the world’s second largest vitamin manufacturer in October, and our livestock industry is facing a serious global shortage.

Shortages of both vitamin A and E and the pressures of limited supply are being felt throughout the industry – from feed and supplement manufacturers trying to stretch supplies to meet demand, right through to producers trying to manage costs of herd health and the bottom line. Unfortunately, there is no short-term solution in sight. In fact, we estimate that it will be late summer or early fall 2018 before supply returns to normal and stabilizes.

This realized global shortage comes at a precarious time for most cow/calf producers – calving season. This is a time when feed and nutrition are paramount to herd health as vitamin requirements are crucial in order to maintain milk quality, calf development, immune development and supporting high rates of reproductive efficiency.

As feed and supplement manufacturers are being forced to cut back and reformulate vitamin A and E additives, it is critical to be aware and monitor your feed and nutrition program to avoid risks to your herd health this calving season and ultimately your bottom line.

Know What you are Feeding. It Doesn’t Pay to Come up Short.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has allowed temporary cuts to the amount of vitamins in feed products. In some cases, the amount of vitamins in feed products is currently reformulated to half of regular levels. These reformulations for the short-term by feed manufacturers include loose minerals, protein tubs and injectable vitamins. That is why it is very important to pay special attention to labels during this time. In addition to reformulation, price increases are also occurring as a result of limited product supply. Price increase may cause some producers to consider cutting back on vitamin supplements; however, avoiding purchase or reducing purchase volume combined with reduced vitamin formulations can bring costly risk and consequences to the immediate and long-term health of your herd.

It doesn’t pay to come up short when it comes to vitamin supplements. In fact, it still pays to feed minerals even at higher prices. Recent studies have proven that the return on feeding minerals to cattle at “normal” pricing is 2:1. Even with a $10 per bag increase in the cost of minerals, it still makes economic sense given all the possible health consequences at this time of year for the cow herd.

Be sure to consult your veterinarian and/or nutritionist to support any short-term strategies or adaptation to vitamin supplementation levels in your feeding and supplement program.

Understanding and Evaluating Level of Risk for Vitamin Deficiency

In cattle, vitamin needs can be confined largely to A, D and E. Vitamin A – a vitamin only found in animals – is required and responsible for normal growth, which is essential for vision, bone growth and embryonic development. Short term vitamin deficiencies are difficult to recognize because of the frequency in which we measure production matrix. How often do we weigh calves? How often do we preg check our cows? Do we even measure milk production? All of these will impact production and operational profitability.

If deficiencies continue however, losses in performance increase in severity. Once deficient, it is advised to start a vitamin feeding program as soon as possible.

Risk Factors for Vitamin Deficiency

  • The size and age of animals are determining factors for vitamin deficiency. Younger animals and breeding stock are most critical in terms of their diet. Thin animals have less body fat and, therefore, carry less storage capacity and will become more deficient sooner.
  • Vitamin requirements increase alongside production, (i.e.) months pregnant, bulls during breeding season and months into lactation.

Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency

Eighty to ninety per cent of vitamin A is stored in the cattle’s liver. The remainder is deposited in fat and other organs. In calves, the majority of vitamin A is transferred to the colostrum at four to eight weeks prior to calving and only by colostrum in the first 12 hours post-calving. Deposits of vitamin A are low at birth and young animals have smaller reserves than more mature animals that have consumed diets high in vitamin A. Young animals that are vitamin A deficient commonly show symptoms sooner than older animals.

Night blindness is the first and most easily detected sign of vitamin A deficiency. (If you suspect an animal or animals are showing symptoms, an easy way to confirm your suspicions is to place an obstacle in the pathway of the animal and see if they stumble over it.)

Diarrhea and pneumonia are also early indicators of vitamin A deficiency. This is especially prevalent in young calves.

Other Initial Signs of Vitamin A Deficiency Include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Rough hair – coat
  • Dull eyes
  • Slow gains and/or reduced feed efficiency
  • Defects in bone growth
  • Reproductive failure

Symptoms of Prolonged Vitamin A Deficiency can Include:

  • Excessive watering of the eyes
  • Staggering gait lameness or stiffness in the knee and hock joints
  • Swelling of the legs or brisket (sometimes abdominal region)
  • In breeding herds, vitamin A deficiency will result in lowered fertility and calving percentage. Cows will abort, or drop dead, or have weak calves and are often difficult to settle.
  • Retained placenta

Symptoms of Vitamin E Deficiency

Vitamin A and E go hand-in-hand as vitamin E is known to increase the efficiency of vitamin A utilization. The symptoms of vitamin E deficiency will show up earlier than vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin E is transferred to the calf fetus solely through colostrum at four to eight weeks prior to calving. Females late in pregnancy require higher levels of vitamin E at approximately eight weeks before calving and throughout lactation.

Symptoms and Ailments Resulting from Vitamin E Deficiency Include:

  • Reduced fertility
  • Retained placenta
  • Increased risk for mastitis
  • White muscle disease – a symptom of selenium deficiency as well
  • Vitamin E is important in the avoidance of resorption of fetuses, muscle dystrophy and anemia/encephalomalacia

Assessing Your Feed Program for Vitamin Deficiency

When it comes to feed and nutrition, all factors need to be considered when forecasting and evaluating your herd health program and include their exposure to feed and forage.

Many cow calf producers in Southwestern Alberta experienced extreme drought conditions this past growing season and drought conditions can increase vitamin A deficiency. If your cattle have grazed bleached pastures or are consuming drought-grown hay, it is very likely they have some level of vitamin A deficiency. Similarly, feed that contains overheated forage or forage exposed to excess weather, harvested crop residues, or feed that is subjected to prolonged storage, will require that your cattle have adequate vitamin A supplementation to support vitamin A deficiencies.

Vitamin E deficiency includes feeds that contain a high nitrate concentration, prolonged storage or weather damage.

It is important to remember that vitamins A and E degrade over time, so purchased products that are stored for several months before feeding will not be at adequate levels. CFIA recommends that vitamins be used within six months from the date of manufacture and all vitamin feed and supplement products should be stored in a cool, dry place.

Through best practices, awareness, assessment and evaluation, vitamin deficiencies and the risks and costs they can impose on your operation can be managed not only during this global shortage and calving season, but for the long-term health of your herd and your bottom line.

For over 20 years, through market and industry challenges and opportunities, we continue to stand behind cow/calf producers like you across Alberta – reflecting your resilience and supporting you with products, tools, insights, expertise and support for advancement and success. To learn more about our vitamin supplementation products and/or label changes, please visit your local UFA or connect with one of our livestock specialists by calling 1-877-258-4500, Option 1 or visit our Contacts page.