Cattle and Vitamin E

July 20, 2021

Written by: Joe Lyman, DVM, MS

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

Within the body, there are potent, harmful substances called peroxides formed with and without the help of certain enzymes. These peroxides are very active and form what is referred to as free radicals.  Free radicals, in turn, damage proteins and other molecules and thus interfere with the function and structure of the tissue involved. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and is found in membranes of the body's cells and functions to prevent the formation of these free radicals mentioned above.  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 fat-soluble vitamin. 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. Although it is made in the skin, animals confined and not exposed to adequate sunlight may be at risk for deficiencies.

Normally vitamins such as E and A are obtained by cattle from their diet. These vitamins are usually abundant in fresh forage. However, not all cattle have access to fresh forage and are fed processed and stored feedstuffs, including concentrates and hay. Over time, the vitamin E content of these stored and processed feedstuffs decreases. Thus cattle eating these sorts of diets may be at risk for the development of deficiencies. Situations, where this might be the case, would be 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. These situations and possibly others are also times of stress and potentially strained immune systems, making them susceptible to infectious diseases like BRD (bovine respiratory disease).

A quick way to boost the animal's vitamin E, A, and D levels is to administer an injectable form of these vitamins.  They enter the body and the bloodstream quickly and avoid having to be absorbed by the gut.  These injectable supplements have been used in calves at birth, calves at weaning, calves entering the feedlot, cows before breeding, and cows before calving. The thought is the vitamins are helping support the immune system at times when the animals are stressed and may have low levels of these vitamins, and they are improving the adult cow's reproductive efficiency.   It is important that the vitamin E used in these supplements be a "natural" sourced product rather than being synthetic. The 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. A question was raised about the bioavailability of the vitamins within Natural E-AD. To prove the excellent bioavailability of vitamin E and vitamin A, we looked at their absorption after being injected into calves and found that those vitamins were not only bioavailable but were absorbed and available to the calf very quickly (see tech sheet). This coupled with the other excellent qualities of Natural E-AD, including excellent syringeability, no tissue irritating ethyl alcohol, no need to refrigerate, and being made in the USA, make Natural E-AD a great choice for an injectable vitamin E, A, and D.

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