Vitamins are vital for cost-effective efficient production

The combination of a major fire at one of the world’s primary producers of a key precursor of both vitamin A and E and restricted supplies from China has created turmoil in the global supply of vitamins. The resultant supply and price volatility will have repercussions at farm level but dairy farmers should focus on the importance of optimum vitamin nutrition.

February 2018

“We have seen prices for feeds increasing,” Dr John Allen, Technical Director with Trouw Nutrition GB comments. “What no one can say with any certainty is how long the supply problems will continue for, but many experts suggest it could continue at least until mid-2018.

“Understandably, any price increase is disappointing news and an option considered to offset the price increase could be to reduce vitamin inclusion rates. While this might seem attractive in the immediate, short term, it is important to remember the vital part vitamins play in order to avoid long-term impact on health and productivity”

Dr Allen says that vitamins are not a luxury, but a crucial nutrient. They are required, albeit in small amounts, by ruminant livestock to support daily functions. Collectively vitamins carry out many roles in the animal with the roles differing dependent upon the vitamin. He adds that the functions of vitamins A and E are very diverse.

“A failure to supply sufficient vitamin A or Vitamin E could predispose cows to a range of metabolic problems which could end up costing more than has been ‘saved’ by reducing inclusion rates. The amounts in feeds and supplements are targeted to supplement naturally occurring sources as the natural supply of both vitamin A and E is very variable.”

He says the vitamin content in fresh forage declines as the forage matures and quickly declines in stored forages, making silage an unreliable and variable source. Concentrate ingredients are normally naturally low in vitamins A and E too. “To overcome uncertainty of natural supply, the requirements for ruminant livestock are calculated based on an essential daily supplementation rate.”

For dairy cows, the minimum supplementary vitamin A should be around 77,000 iu per day in both lactating and dry cows while vitamin E should be 560 iu per day as a minimum supplementation target in lactation and at least double that in the dry period.

“This is typically supplied by fortifying compound feeds and farm minerals with these essential vitamins. For example, a dairy compound containing 8000 iu/kg of vitamin A and 40mg/kg vitamin E fed at 6kg per day would need supplementation with a farm mineral containing 300,000 iu/kg of vitamin A and 3200 IU/kg vitamin E and fed at 100g per head per day.

“There are many different levels and feed rates so this is only a guide. In certain situations, supplementation rates will need to be higher, for example rations high in maize silage or with low forage intakes, or in herds faced with disease and immunity challenges.

“While it may be tempting to reduce costs short term by lowering vitamin  supplementation, perhaps by switching to a lower specification farm mineral, a careful review is important. Formulations have been developed over many years of practical application of research to suit modern needs so caution is advised. A short term reduction in vitamins could have a long term detrimental impact.

“My advice to any dairy farmer is to review the situation, do the calculations against feeding rates and not to cut corners for short term benefit,” he concludes.