Don’t forget your vitamins: Cattle and vitamin E absorption

By James Little, DVM

Equine and companion animal professional services veterinarian

 The fat soluble vitamins (e.g., vitamins A, D, E, and K) play important roles in the bodies of many species including bovine. One of the critical roles is the support they provide to the immune system in its response to infectious disease. Vitamin E probably is the one cattle producers hear about the most and are most familiar with.

Why do vitamins matter?

Within the body there are potent, harmful substances called peroxides that are formed with and without the help of certain enzymes. These peroxides are very active and form free radicals. Free radicals in turn damage proteins and other molecules and interfere with the function and structure of the tissue involved. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and is found in cell membranes and prevents the formation of free radicals. In doing this, vitamin E helps to prevent cell and tissue damage. These cells and tissues involved could be in any part of the body, including the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, muscle, and skin.

Vitamin A is another of the fat soluble vitamins. It has many functions within the body and is necessary for proper growth, bone development, vision, mucosal secretions, and reproductive functions.

Vitamin D is important for the proper absorption of calcium from the diet. Since it is made in the skin and synthesized when exposed to UV light, animals that are confined and are not exposed to adequate sunlight may be at risk for deficiencies.

How do deficiencies happen?

Normally, cattle obtain vitamins such as E and A from their diet as these vitamins typically are abundant in fresh forage. However, not all cattle have access to fresh forage and instead are fed processed and stored feedstuffs including concentrates and hay. Through time, the vitamin E content of these stored and processed feedstuffs decreases. Therefore, cattle eating this type of diet may be at risk for development of vitamin deficiencies. These situations include adult cattle eating hay, adult cattle and calves that are on poor quality pasture, calves coming into the feedlot from poor pastures, or feedlot cattle themselves that are consuming only processed and stored feedstuffs. All of these situations also can cause stress and strain the animals’ immune systems, making them susceptible to infectious diseases such as bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

How are deficiencies fixed?

A quick way to provide a boost in the animals vitamin E, A, and D levels is to administer an injectable form of these vitamins, which enter the body and the blood stream quickly and avoid delays associated with having to be absorbed through the gut. These injectable supplements have been used in situations such as calves at birth, calves at weaning, calves entering the feedlot, cows prior to breeding, and cows prior to calving. The thought is the vitamins help support the immune system at times when the animals are stressed and may have low levels of these vitamins. This also may improve the adult cow’s reproductive efficiency. Supplying calves with vitamin E along with selenium also may prevent white muscle disease.  It is important the vitamin E used in these supplements be a natural- sourced product rather than being synthetic. Natural vitamin E is much more bioavailable and useable by the body.

Neogen provides an excellent injectable supplement, Natural E-AD, which contains vitamins E, A, and D. In a recent internal study, we looked the absorption of Vitamin E and A after being injected into calves. We found the vitamins were not only bioavailable, but were absorbed and available to the calf very quickly. Natural E-AD also has excellent syringeability, no tissue irritating ethyl alcohol, no need to refrigerate, and is made in the U.S.

For more information on Natural E-AD, click here.

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