Having the right vitamins is essential in preventing health issues in your herd

As the seasons change, the vitamin needs of cattle fluctuate. It is important to know what these needs are and how they can be supplemented in herds.

“Cattle have the unique ability to synthesize many vitamins in the rumen, including most of the B vitamins and vitamin K,” said Denise Trotter, retired agriculture educator. “So, A, D and E are the vitamins producers usually need to consider in winter feeding.”

Vitamin A can be affected by many stressors, including hot and cold temperatures. This can interfere with the animal’s ability to convert carotene to vitamin A. 

Carotene is found in green and yellow feedstuffs, so the loss of green pasture during colder seasons can influence vitamin A storage in the liver and vitamin A synthesis. Feeding green hay or yellow corn makes deficiency less likely. 

“Deficiencies in vitamin A can cause reduced rate of gain, susceptibility to disease and reduced reproductive efficiency,” said Trotter. “Extreme deficiencies of A could greatly lower reproduction and affect the eyes.” 

Supplying adequate calcium and phosphorus in the correct ratio is important to ensure vitamin D is metabolized efficiently. Vitamin D works with calcium and phosphorus in the diet to allow for skeletal growth and regulate absorption of those minerals.

“Vitamin D is formed by the animal in the presence of sunlight, so long winters with little sunlight could theoretically affect vitamin D production in the body,” said Trotter. “This is not usually a problem if animals are outside.”

A vitamin D deficiency can include poor appetite and decreased growth. Severe deficiency can cause porous bones, swollen joints and Ricketts. 

Vitamin E works in conjunction with the mineral selenium, so a selenium deficiency can decrease the function of vitamin E and increase the likelihood of symptoms. Alfalfa, green forages and oil meals are all supplements for vitamin E. 

“Most rations fed to cattle contain adequate Vitamin E,” Trotter said. “Low levels could result in white muscle disease in calves. Cows might give birth to weak or deformed calves with eye problems.” 

During the winter months, some green forages can be found in Ozarks pastures. Providing hay rations that are green, leafy and sun-cured, however, can greatly reduce the likelihood of a deficiency in vitamins A, D or E, Trotter said. 

Abundant forages and access to free choice minerals remains important year round. Mineral supplements including selenium, calcium, phosphorus and trace minerals can be used to increase the cattle’s metabolization of vitamins.

“Vitamins A, D and E are fat soluble and are stored in the body, usually the liver,” Trotter said. “This helps animals get through the winter.” 

In order to prevent depletion of these stored vitamins, producers sometimes give cattle injections of vitamin A, D or E. This is especially important in younger cattle, including weaned calves and first calf heifers.

Since extreme temperatures are stressors for livestock, it is also critical to provide fresh, clean water at all times. During colder months, a water tank heater is recommended. 

“If temperature control of the water tank is possible, cattle may drink more and feed efficiency is increased,” said Trotter.

Protein levels in the cattle’s hay and pastures should also be tested to determine if supplemental protein is needed.

“Specific nutritional needs to balance rations for weaned calves, yearlings, heifers and cows should be considered,” said Trotter. “Testing nutrient levels in pastures and hay will allow producers to create a ration that meets the needs of their cattle without over or underfeeding.”

Ensuring cattle have the vitamins they need, especially during winter, is essential in preventing health issues and reducing deficiencies.


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