Cattle are just like us – They Need Their Vitamins Too!

How the global vitamin shortage is affecting the agriculture feed industry.

Growing up do you remember your mother forcing you to swallow or chew a couple chalky vitamins before heading off to school? Remember wondering, why do I have to take these nasty things?! Even though most of us as children wished that those vitamins would just disappear. Be careful what you wish for…

As children we don’t realize how important vitamins are for keeping our bodies healthy. Our skin, eyes, hair, metabolism, teeth and virtually every other part of our body benefits from the intake of vitamins. Animals benefit greatly from vitamins too, and animals used for food, even more so. Due to the current global shortage of vitamins A and E, the animal agriculture industry is about to face some tough challenges.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for health, reproduction and growth in animals. It also plays a vital role in low-light vision; normal kidney functions; development of teeth, bones and nervous tissue. Vitamin E is essential for the optimum function and integrity of animals’ muscular, reproductive, circulatory, nervous and immune systems.

Young Hereford calves wait for the feed truck to deliver their morning rations that are enhanced with necessary vitamins. Photo by: Maclaine Shults

After the closure of a large plant in China and a fire that destroyed much of the European BASF chemical plant in Germany, which contributes over 45 percent of the global supply of citral, industry leaders fear an inevitable spike in feed prices.

With the current cattle market resting below a measly $2/lbs of beef harvested, cattle feeders are barely getting by while trying to meet the historic, all-time high demand for beef. Now throw in the added lack of vitamins A and E, which play a crucial role in animal nutrition, and the financial walls just seem like they’re about to close in!

However, industry officials came up with a couple ways for producers to plan ahead and hopefully soften the blow until plants are up and running and the vitamin volume in feed is back to normal.

Get in touch with a feed supplier

Though the event of the shortage in itself was unforeseen, many feed companies were still able to retain and provide enough unaffected feed reserves to producers.  Those who weren’t have done their best to maintain normal prices on feed, so as not to put livestock owners in a tough spot financially.

Producers were encouraged to maintain normal feed orders with their feed suppliers and stock up on as much vitamin efficient feed as possible before the shipment of deficient feed hit the market (The Agriculture Industries Confederation (AIC) sent word out in December 2017. The vitamin-short feed hit U.S. markets in the beginning of 2018.)

Young cattle need as much vitamin A & E in their diet as possible. Vitamin A is readily available when grazing in the summer, but in the winter they must get it from feed rations. Photo by: Maclaine Shults

Speak to a veterinarian or nutritionist

The AIC  put the word out to different farming associations and organizations, producers should consult with their vet or a credible animal nutritionist to find a way to restructure their feeding plans.

Right now, the animals  most at risk for vitamin deficiency issues include young livestock and lactating females. So, producers are being encouraged to prioritize these animals (if they are present on their operations) and administer feed that was stored prior to the shortage to these animals daily.  The remaining livestocks’ feed will have to be adjusted in order to compensate for the lack of specific vitamins. Thankfully, there are resources available to accomplish the task. Another positive point, those animals are not as at risk for negative effects from the shortage as those mentioned previously, so they should be just fine!

Not everyone likes to take their vitamins, but these calves and their mamas sure need them! Even if this guy thinks otherwise. Photo by: Maclaine Shults

Challenges within the agriculture industry are not uncommon.  Agriculturists and industry leaders strive to meet and conquer these challenges head-on so as to be able to continue feeding the world. Consumers also play a vital role in industry success and that hasn’t changed with this most recent issue.

Not to get on the whole “naked and hungry” train, but we are all consumers and as such, we need to make it a point to research and become aware of the issues facing the agriculture industry. In this case, the vitamin shortage and its effect on livestock health is something we can follow and keep up with because we can help others understand the challenge.

We wouldn’t want to be without vitamins essential to our diet. I’m sure we would do our best to figure out the quickest alternatives to find a solution to that issue, right? Well, the same goes for animals.  It’s our duty to make sure people realize how vital it will be to continue to support the animal and food agriculture industry through this challenge!