Vitamin prices skyrocket as supplies decrease

Livestock feed vitamin supplementation strategies should be evaluated

Dairy feed vitamin supplements
Vitamin A and E have become scarce, experts are predicting an additional 5 cents per cow per day for at least the next six months. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

SALEM, Ohio — Supplemental vitamins A and E are becoming scarce and prices have more than doubled.

A fire at a vitamin plant in Germany, the closure of another plant in Europe, and reduced production at a plant in China is triggering the shortage.

Supplies will likely remain tight well into summer of 2018, predicts Bill Weiss, dairy nutrition specialist with Ohio State Extension.

“It is likely around 75 percent of world’s vitamin supply cut in one month,” said Larry Bock, a consultant with Renaissance Nutrition.

“A lot of farmers don’t know about it yet, but they are going to have to cut back to get by,” said Bock, who has been working with dairy nutrition for 24 years.

He’s heard that vitamin A prices are up 300 percent and vitamin E prices are up 150 percent.

“We are seeing about a 5 cent increase per cow per day, about doubling the standard price,” said Charlie Ellington, a nutritionist with Heritage Cooperative.

In this time of high vitamin prices and limited supply, your livestock feed vitamin supplementation strategies should be evaluated, Weiss wrote in a recent OSU Extension news article.

“We don’t know anything to be perfect, including recommendations, so people tend to overfeed to be safe,” Weiss said. “The cost has been so trivial in the past.”


The most recent Nutrient Requirements of Dairy Cattle (2001) has a vitamin A requirement of 50 International Units of supplemental vitamin A per pound of body weight.

For an average Jersey and Holstein cow, that translates to about 50,000 and 70,000 IU/day, respectively. That requirement is also for dry cows and growing heifers.

For supplemental vitamin E, NRC recommendations are 0.35 IU/pound of body weight for lactating cows and 0.7 IU/pound of body weight for dry cows.

This is approximately equal to 500 and 1000 IU/day of supplemental vitamin for lactating and dry Holstein cows and 350 and 700 IU/day for lactating and dry Jersey cows, respectively.

Surveys have indicated that supplementation rates are commonly at least twice NRC recommendations, said Weiss.

“I have routinely recommended 20 percent more than the national recommendations, with as much research as we have about the value of these vitamins, we don’t want to be deficient,” he said.

Health benefits

Several controlled studies have shown that feeding vitamins A and E at NRC recommendations reduce mastitis, abortions, retained placenta, and metritis compared to feeding diets with no supplemental vitamin A or E, Weiss said.

However, essentially no data are available showing that feeding more vitamins A and E than recommended has any additional positive effects.

“I recommend they stick to around NRC standards, but cows further into lactation can handle a little less,” said Ellington, who has specialized in dairy nutrition for eight years. “When it comes to vitamin E, a decrease could mean more cases of mastitis and mammary tract infections postpartum.”

Feed bill

“Most haven’t noticed a big hike to their feed bills,” Ellington said. “Not giving recommended amounts could push them even further back and be much more detrimental at the end of the day.”

“With all that dairy farmers have to worry about, I don’t think this is something they are going to adjust much in their feed,” Ellington said. “With high-producing dairy cows, lowering these vitamins would effect immunity, breeding and so on.”

As tight profit margins linger, dairy farmers may need to look into adjusting their vitamin ratios, especially if they are currently overfeeding such vitamins.

Weiss has some recommendations on where and how to cut back (see adjacent article), but notes that cows just before calving, should receive the recommendations for vitamins A and E, because calving is a critical time, Weiss said.

“Substantial amounts of those vitamins are put into colostrum and substantial amounts of those vitamins are metabolized during the process of parturition.”

Increased supplementation of vitamin E during this prefresh time reduces mastitis, Weiss said. Supplementation rates ranged from 2000 to 4000 IU/day during the prefresh period.

“We need to be smart, we don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish,” Weiss said.

Recommended vitamin supplementation strategies:

Feed vitamins A and E at NRC levels to your dairy herd. In many situations, this will reduce vitamin supplementation by about 50 percent. If prices continue to climb and vitamins become scarce, then:

  • Prefresh cows, those just before giving birth, should be the highest priority and be maintained at NRC levels for vitamin A and probably 2000 IU/day for vitamin E. A prefresh period of two or three weeks is adequate with respect to these vitamin recommendations.
  • If you do not have a separate prefresh group from the far-off dry cows, the next priority would be to meet NRC requirements for vitamins A and E for all dry cows.
  • Try to provide some supplemental vitamins A and E to all cows, but lactating cows would be the lowest priority. These cows consume a lot of feed and the feed is usually better quality than that fed to dry cows.
  • If vitamin A becomes very scarce, reduce vitamin A supplementation to about 50 percent of NRC for several months. All the past overfeeding of vitamin A has likely increased liver stores of retinol, which can be used to meet the vitamin A needs for an extended period of time.
  • Vitamin E supplementation to lactating cows could be cut to 50 percent of NRC in the short term, a few months.
  • Vitamin E supplementation of bred heifers can likely be reduced to well below NRC until about 60 days prepartum. Also, some vitamin A supplementation should be provided to these animals, perhaps 50 percent of NRC.

Recommendations by Bill Weiss, Ohio State Extension dairy nutrition specialist.


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