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Livestock industry faces trouble ahead from vitamin shortage

Health: News Roundup from the May 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

My all-time favourite TV show remains the 1990s comedy “Home Improvement,” and my favourite actor: Tim “The Toolman” Taylor (Tim Allen). Since the show aired three decades ago, I have crossed paths with remakes of every character in racehorse barns, in feed alleys, at stock shows across Canada, and in western Canadian branding corrals. I’ve relived almost every scene in the tantrum we call life.

Tim’s neighbour Wilson always intrigued me. How screenwriters create these people, and how they transport them into something “nearly” real is a miracle. As a child, Wilson’s parents didn’t allow him to speak to neighbours, so he really liked talking to Tim and Jill. I have a wonderful neighbour who reminds me of Wilson. He keeps me informed about important events in life and seems to know how to fix anything. The other day he reminded me that April in 2018 nearly topped the scale for 100-year temperature lows. The EdmontonCentre Airport Weather Station projected an April mean temperature of -1.1 C. The worst April on record witnessed mean temperatures for the month at a dismal -3.3 C, which occurred in 1954.

Cattlemen will remember the winter of 2018: too much snow in many parts, March nights that tipped the scales at -10 C. The usual flush of green grass and sunshine in March that typically signals dry spaces, freedom from cold nights, and better colostrum for new calves in my part of Alberta didn’t happen this spring. Ranchers clearing calving and feeding areas buried in snow have spent thousands of dollars. It’s nearly the middle of April as I write this. Snow intermingled with freezing rain and wind adds to the difficult times of getting calves on the ground and keeping them healthy until spring arrives. Reports from ranchers and veterinary practitioners suggest that respiratory diseases, calf scours and hypothermia have already claimed many calves. Shortages of Vitamin A and E will have an impact on calf survival and breeding season this year.

Winter started with news that a major fire at a BASF plant in Germany interrupted production of Citral, a crucial precursor used in manufacturing vitamins A and E. The result is a worldwide shortage of vitamins A and E that is not expected to recoup until the summer of 2018. A vitamin shortage significantly boosted the costs of livestock feed supplements. Vitamins that cost less than one cent per head per day in October 2017 now cost up to seven cents per head per day. A number of feed mills report vitamin-mineral premix costs have increased three to four times and in many cases vitamin A and E are being eliminated from premixes sold into livestock operations. Supplies of powdered, crumbled or injectable vitamins are at all-time lows. Injectable vitamin A, D and E has been unavailable since January 2018 from three major distributors in Western Canada. Vitamin E-selenium preparations are also in extremely short supply.

Vitamin supplies have forced manufacturers to cut corners by reducing vitamin levels in feed formulations. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency implemented an interim compliance policy for registered feeds containing vitamins A and E that allows feed companies to temporarily reduce vitamin concentrations in feeds, as long as they fall within the range of requirements listed in federal feed regulations. The revised guarantees will continue to fall within the requirements of Table IV of the Feeds Regulations. When the supply of vitamins A and E stabilizes, feed guarantees will return to levels approved in product registrations.

Vitamins are vital to livestock health. The overall and longer-term impact of prolonged winter and vitamin shortages remains unknown. A great deal depends on the quality of feed and forages offered since cattle came off pasture last fall. For instance, cattle grazing corn generally require vitamin A supplementation, as do cattle that have had nothing but dry, medium- to poor-quality forage since coming off pasture last fall. Vitamin A deficiency in cattle reduces feed intake, affects bone growth, can cause abortions, lower sperm counts and reduce conception rates. Deficiency in vitamin E lowers immune function, growth rate and survivability in calves, and reduces reproduction efficiency in mature animals. Many producers in Western Canada depend on vitamin E and selenium to prevent white muscle disease.

The Saskatchewan and Alberta governments have produced very good fact sheets on the strategic use of vitamins A, D and E during a shortage.

Producers are encouraged to discuss what troubles might lay ahead with their veterinarian.

About the author

Columnist

Dr. Ron Clarke prepares this column on behalf of the Western Canadian Association of Bovine Practitioners. Suggestions for future articles can be sent to Canadian Cattlemen ([email protected]) or WCABP ([email protected]).

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