Take your vitamins
If anyone has bought mineral for your livestock since the beginning of the year, you’ve noticed a jump in price. Some mineral has jumped by over 35% in price in just a manner of a few weeks. So what’s the deal?
In short, due to a fire at a BASF plant in Germany and a shutdown of a plant in China, there is a severe deficiency in the supply of vitamin A and vitamin E. We know that we should provide vitamins for our beef cattle, but what does it mean if we don’t? Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency include blindness, lethargy or weakness, reduced fertility, abnormal bone development in growing animals, and reduced immunity overall which can lead to a greater incidence of common diseases.
How much does a cow need? A mature cow requires around 53,000 IU/day (International Units/day), while a 600 lb. calf requires about 18,000 IU/d. Since vitamin content can vary greatly within feedstuffs, most vitamin recommendations are for 100% of the requirement.
So where else can we get vitamin A? Hay is the most obvious answer, but how much is available? As with anything else… it depends.
Fresh pasture can contain high levels of vitamins, but levels in stored feed, particularly hay, can vary greatly. Vitamins are easily oxidized, and exposure to sunlight or UV light can damage vitamins. Hay that is bleached, stored outside, or very mature will be low in vitamins, particularly vitamin A. Most fescue hay that has been put up and stored well can have has much as 39,600 IU in 30 lbs. of hay (1,320 IU/lb.), which is still just a little shy what a 1,400 lb. mature cow will consume in a day. Corn silage can also be high in vitamin A at 3,130 IU/lb. So we can get close to meeting our beef cattle requirements of vitamin A through feedstuffs, however; variability within that feedstuff can be high.
Several years ago, the U.K. Beef IRM team developed a list of recommended mineral and vitamin levels for producers in Kentucky. Those recommendations were based on achieving 100% of the requirement from the mineral; however, those have very recently been revised.
In short, you should watch your feed tags on all your mineral and supplemental feed to ensure that you know if vitamin levels are being lowered by the manufacturer. We should still provide supplemental vitamins and minerals to ensure that our cattle are meeting their requirement, but with good hay or silage, we may be able to lower the amount of vitamins we provide.