Vitamin shortage may affect Canadian herd health

A worldwide shortage of vitamins A and E has boosted the cost of livestock feed supplements, forcing manufacturers to reduce the levels of those vitamins in feed formulations.

An Oct. 31 fire at BASF’s Citral plant in Germany halted production of the vitamins and it is not expected to resume full operation until late March or early April.

In the meantime, one livestock specialist said vitamins that cost less than one cent per head per day in October now cost seven cents per head per day and available supplies of powdered, crumbled or injectable vitamins will soon run out.

However, the vitamins are vital to livestock health. Vitamin A deficiency in cattle can reduce feed intake, affect bone growth, cause abortions, lower sperm counts and reduce conception rates. Deficiency in vitamin E lowers immune function and growth rate in calves and reduces reproduction efficiency in mature animals.

Thus vitamin supplements should be provided despite the price increase, according to feed specialists.

Feed manufacturers are required by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to meet certain ingredient levels and indicate them on feed labels. The vitamin shortage led the CFIA to develop an interim policy allowing manufacturers to change formulations and labels to reflect reduced vitamin levels.

“The temporary reformulation of feeds to reduce levels of vitamins A and E is not expected to cause any undue safety or welfare risks to livestock,” the CFIA said in its policy notice.

“The revised guarantees will continue to fall within the requirements of Table IV of the Feeds Regulations, and the guarantees for these vitamins will return to the levels as approved in their registrations when the supply of vitamins A and E has stabilized.”

Joyce Van Donkersgoed, a veterinarian specializing in feedlot animal care, said Jan. 15 that vitamins A and E are essential in cattle rations, especially for new entrants to a feedlot when the nutritional history of the calves is unknown.

Cattle can obtain enough vitamins A and E when eating actively growing plants but vitamin levels decline quickly in hay and cut forages.

Donkersgoed said feedlot nutritionists will likely be looking at ways to reduce vitamin levels, but it will depend on what effect that will have on animal health as well as performance, and there isn’t much reliable research on that.

Reports from Alberta Agriculture and Saskatchewan Agriculture, who are collaborating on a factsheet about the shortage, indicate supplies of injectable Vitamin A have already sold out.

Murray Feist, ruminant nutritionist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said he thinks the short-term effects of the shortage won’t be huge for the cow-calf industry.

Cattle can store vitamin A in their livers for use over three or four months. Vitamin E is only stored for two to four weeks and is transferred from cows to calves via colostrum.

“If guys were feeding a mineral with vitamins in it, I’m of the opinion that they’re likely not going to see a major problem but it could happen,” said Feist.

“If anything, I think it would be the vitamin E that would give them some troubles, which is involved with selenium and reduced growth rates, immune functions, white muscle disease and things like that.”

Even so, Feist said cattle are resilient and may manage without supplemental vitamins until they go out on grass, where they can get sufficient amounts.

The real problem could occur next year, if there still aren’t enough of the manufactured vitamins available as the plant addresses the worldwide demand.

“To restock, who knows how long that would take? If the factories aren’t up and running until the end of the first quarter of this year, does that take us into summer or fall? I don’t know, because it is a worldwide shortage so it will take awhile.”

A fact sheet compiled by Alberta Agriculture, Saskatchewan Agriculture and Agriculture Canada said cattle at highest risk due to vitamin shortages are those that grazed dry or dormant grass since July and then got silage-based or straw-grain rations later. Those on hay or greenfeed harvested last summer are also at high risk, particularly if they haven’t been given supplements.

As a result, when calving season begins in earnest this spring, producers may see more dead calves, cases of white muscle disease and more calves with infectious illnesses such as scours and pneumonia.

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