Plan ahead for shortage of vitamins A and E
Receiving a higher price per calf at sale time is on every cattleman’s Christmas wish, and while higher commodity prices may not be packed in Santa’s sleigh, back home on the ranch, producers can work to improve their bottomline by decreasing input costs.
For Tyler Medenwald, a cow-calf producer from Sisseton, S.D., testing his feedstuffs after harvest is a smart investment that has allowed him to more efficiently feed his herd.
“We started getting really serious about testing five years ago,” said Medenwald, whose family weans calves in October and backgrounds the calf crop until February or March. “We test all of our hay, silage, oats and corn and work with a nutritionist to create a ration for our gestating cows, bred heifers, herd bulls, yearling bulls and calves. What we have quickly discovered is we were overfeeding our cows because what we thought they needed was vastly different from what the feedstuffs were actually providing.”
The tests are pennies on the dollar for the savings they have enjoyed on their feed bill.
“We aren’t wasting feed by overfeeding, and we’ve been able to cut back on the amount we feed tremendously by better understanding what we are offering our cattle within our ration,” Medenwald said. “Combined with a good mineral supplement, our cattle are able to better absorb the nutrients in the feedstuffs, and we are able to stretch out our forage resources a little bit further to save additional money.”
While forage testing may seem like an obvious choice, many producers rely on physical appraisal of gestating cows and calves to maintain body condition and overall health during the winter months. Yet, the upcoming year may be more critical than ever for producers to know and understand what they are feeding to the herd.
A shortage of Vitamin A and E may significantly spike the cost of certain feeds and minerals in the upcoming months. According to Feedinfo News Service, “Currently, supply to the market is extremely tight with concerns that some premixers may face a physical shortage during the coming weeks.”
This shortage is due to an Oct. 31, 2017 fire at BASF’s citral plant in Germany. BASF is the second-largest Vitamin A producer in the world, serving 26 percent of the global Vitamin A feed grade sector.
Feedinfo News Service reports, “The global Vitamin A feedgrade market was already tight before the fire. Vitamin A output in China was significantly disrupted during the summer as a result of inspections relating to environmental issues and new regulations. In addition, the world’s largest Vitamin A producer DSM announced that they would undergo extended maintenance shutdowns during 2017 and late 2018. They told customers that product availability would be affected as a result.”
With just three independent supply chains on the global market, 40-50 percent of the market has been impacted, and according to Feeding News Service, “based on the above factors the global Vitamin A feedgrade market is expected to remain extremely difficult until at least end of the first half of 2018.”
“Mineral feeds in April (200,000 – 400,000 IU/lb) had a estimated vitamin A cost per bag of $.44-.84 cents per bag in April compared to $4.44 – 8.40 per bag by late-November,” said Kevin Glaubius, director of nutrition for Biozyme Inc. “Right now, no one really knows what will price be later this spring, but we have had some recent quotes that would potentially double those costs again.”
Glaubius said the real unknown right now is if a mill is out of A or E, is it going to be available and if so at what price? Mills have begun to ration usage in a number of ways some by reducing levels and/or restricting purchases.
As of Dec. 1, Biozyme has been proactive by reducing inclusion rates of Vitamin A & E on various products to stretch current inventories.
“We also took this approach because prices are quickly becoming unrealistic to expect economic benefits at current prices compared to the past; in almost all cases, prices being quoted are ten-times what was being paid just last spring with very limited supply at this time,” Glaubius said. “It is our goal to be able to continue to provide products that meet the base vitamin requirements through this period, and we therefore are continuing to source supplies needed.”
With advanced warning that costs may rise significantly for certain products containing Vitamin A and E, what can producers do to prepare and offer these nutrients in other ways? For starters, fresh green forage and legume hay like alfalfa hay and clover are good sources of these vitamins.
“Additionally, beef cattle generally store vitamins in the body fat for a period of 2-4 months before they are depleted, which provides an additional degree of safety if you are feeding at lower rates,” Glaubius said.
“If feeding alfalfa hay, sun-cured alfalfa hay contains about 4,500 IU/lb of Vitamin A and 18 IU per lb. of vitamin E. So a producer feeding 10 lbs. of alfalfa would be getting 45,000 IU per day of A and 180 IU per day of vitamin E as compared to using a feed like corn stalks or wheat straw. That would be comparable to the levels that a producer might see in some of the common cow-calf minerals from a daily intake standpoint.”
Glaubius recommends producers wanting to increase Vitamin A levels to stick with legumes and avoid two-year old hay as levels do deteriorate over time. He says one strategy may be to feed 4-5 lbs. of alfalfa beginning a month prior to calving and 8-10 lbs. in the lactation diet along with a good mineral.
“When it comes to Vitamin E, other than fresh forage, finding feeds with high levels is difficult,”he said. “Corn distiller’s grains contain about 15 IU vitamin E per lb. So feeding 5 lbs. of DDGS contains about 75 IU of vitamin E. Biozyme is currently looking at new technologies with anti-oxidant properties that allow them to replace a portion of the Vitamin E. The base ingredients in these products are a combination of plant extracts. Currently, there are products marketed for swine and poultry available, but some of the ingredients are not approved for use in cattle in the U.S. market.”
At this time, Biozyme is also taking a second look at organic selenium. which works together with Vitamin E because at today’s prices for elevating vitamin E it may become more feasible than it has in the past.
While ingredient suppliers and feed manufacturers are actively working to source and secure the limited supply of Vitamin A and E on the market, producers should start planning ahead for a shortage with tight supplies and high prices expected to last through summer 2018.
“I encourage producers to plan ahead and be aware of the situation and the disruption it is causing as supplies tighten,” Glaubius said. “Then visit with your feed supplier and nutritionist about the best plan to address the challenge in your situation.”
A nutritionist can assist with feed testing, ration balancing and consultations to get the most out of every bite. Back at home on the ranch, Medenwald is compensate for this price spike by feeding as high of quality hay as possible through the winter months and turning cows out to grass early in the spring if necessary.
“A shortage of nutrients could impact herd health significantly, and if mineral prices continue to rise, it will be increasingly important to know what’s available in your inventory of feedstuffs,” Medenwald said. “A cow won’t tell you what she’s short on, so testing your feeds and using the best minerals we can will ensure she is offered an adequate diet that meets her nutrient requirements.” F