Research Shows Benefits of Administering Vitamin E to Spring-Born CalvesFri, 22 Mar 2013 09:46:36 CDT
Calves born during winter and early spring, especially after lengthy droughts, are more likely to be vitamin deficient says Dr. Rob Stuart. Stuart is a nutritionist who has worked extensively with universities to understand the role vitamins play in keeping cattle healthy and performing at peak efficiency.
With the drought entering its third year across major portions of the Southern Plains, Dr. Stuart said it is important for ranchers to watch their newborn calves for signs of weak-calf syndrome. (You can hear the audio version of this story by clicking on the LISTEN BAR below.)
"Several years ago I saw there was a tremendous deficiency in vitamin E and vitamin A status in spring-born calves and I started looking at the aspect of 'Well, what would happen if these calves are born deficient in these critical vitamins?' And weak-calf syndrome came up. What weak-calf syndrome is, a calf is born, they are weak, they are hardly able to get up. Their muscle function is very poor. And some of them are called 'dumb' calves; they just don't know how to nurse and within a few days those critters are dead.
"And so that's one of the things we've been really been looking at-how we can prevent this malady. And it primarily occurs in spring-born calves-calves that are born to cows that have been fed roughages such as stalklage, poor quality hay or even silage. So, spring-born calves are the ones that are more disposed to weak calf syndrome."
Dr. Stuart said his research has revealed the most important determinant in weak-calf syndrome is the nutrient quality of the feed provided for the cow.
"It depends on the quality of the program the cow is on before she calves. If she has a good supplementation program, then it is less likely to occur. And it is also more common in cows that have gone through droughty growing conditions like in the summertime and then going into a real severe wintertime and just not getting good quality feeds through that critical time. That's when it occurs most often."
He says that's why, this year, cattle in the Southern Plains are particularly susceptible to weak calf syndrome.
"We've really had some rough months. That's one of the things it's shown is that if the gestating cow is not receiving adequate vitamins, then she is not going to be able to produce those and pass those on to the calf."
Dr. Stuart says calves can suffer from several vitamin deficiencies, but the most acute is a lack of vitamin E. Without adequate vitamin E, calves may not have adequate strength or the ability to nurse in the vital few hours after birth. This in turn compounds the problem.
"Vitamin E comes through the colostrum, provided the cow has received adequate levels in her feedstuffs. So vitamin E enters the calf through the colostrum. And vitamin E, if you look at the textbooks, one of the major deficiency symptoms of vitamin E is muscle dystrophy or the muscles just don't function. And one of the interesting muscles is the tongue muscle. The data shows that calves that are deficient in vitamin E just have a problem sucking and that's very important for a newborn calf."
In his research, Dr. Stuart has documented the rapid improvement in calves suffering from weak-calf syndrome when injected with vitamin E. He says there are several products containing vitamin E that are often used for this purpose, but he developed one of his own, called Vital E Newborn and Vital E A+D, that offer significant benefits over generic vitamin E supplements.
"Vital E has the same form of vitamin E that is found in colostrum, the same form. It is tocopherol, which is the biologically active form of vitamin E that is found in colostrum. Most of the vitamin E's that are in supplements are an ester of vitamin E and that has to be converted to free tocopherol before the calf can utilize it. So that is critically important for the young calf. As the calf gets older, their ability to utilize what we call the vitamin E ester is improved, but early on the calf has difficulty utilizing the esters. The form we put in our Vital E products is the free tocopherol, the same form that is in the cow's milk as well as the same for that is in grass."
Dr. Stuart said Vital E is not a replacement for colostrum, but is an important adjunct to it.
"Colostrum has its function and its major function is to pass on immunoglobulins to the newborn calf and also energy. So, that's the major function of colostrum. Colostrum is also a conduit to deliver vitamin E provided that the cow has received adequate vitamin E. And I should also add vitamin A as well into this mix. They do both have different functions, but they are both critically important."
Even though research has shown that both vitamin E and colostrum are important, Dr. Stuart says the importance of vitamin supplementation in newborn calves has not yet taken hold as strongly as he believes it will in the near future.
"What I see is that when you talk to a lot of veterinarians and nutritionists, they haven't really considered vitamin deficiencies in these newborn calves. Everyone has been keying in on 'Well, let's get good, quality colostrum into the calf'-which I agree with-but, at the same time, we need to be concerned with their vitamin status shortly after birth. And that's what we have been doing with university studies and working with veterinarians by showing them the importance of fat-soluble vitamins to that newborn calf. Colostrum is critically important, yet if colostrum is deficient in fat-soluble vitamins, then that calf is going to suffer."
Dr. Stuart says university research indicates that injecting a calf as soon after birth as possible with Vital E dramatically improves the calf's vitamin status.
He says the treatment costs just over one dollar per dose and the benefits far outweigh the cost.
Dr. Stuart was raised on a farm in Louisiana and has been involved in agriculture most of his life. He worked for a major pharmaceutical firm in the 1980s. He started Stuart Products in 1989 to bring his research to the agriculture industry. His company currently sells products used in species ranging from elephants all the way down to mice.
More information on Dr. Stuart's research and his products is available at www.stuartproducts.com
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