Don’t Short Calves on Vitamins and Trace Minerals – Dave Wood, Animix, LLC

Posted on December 20, 2013 in Starting Strong - Calf Care

By Dave Wood, director of technical services and sales, Animix, LLC
Whole milk fails to meet basic vitamin and trace mineral requirements of the young milk-fed calf. Vitamin and trace mineral levels as reported by the USDA  and calf requirements as reported in the 2001 NRC for dairy cattle show that a gallon of whole milk is:

  • Deficient in vitamins D3 and E,
  • Deficient in six of seven essential trace minerals, and
  • Deficient in six of eight essential B vitamins.

Vitamins and trace minerals are necessary to optimize health and growth, particularly in young animals, and NRC requirements are only designed to meet minimum requirements of a healthy calf gaining just two-thirds of a pound daily.

Micronutrient requirements increase both when the calf is sick and when it’s gaining at its full genetic potential.  The need for optimum pre-weaning gains has become more heightened as new research shows a tie between pre-weaning performance and milk production in early lactations. By conveniently and cost-effectively supplementing whole milk, you can be assured that you’re providing micro-nutrient nutrition that optimizes calf health and growth.

What about vitamins and trace minerals in fetal tissue reserves, colostrum or starter grain? Although each are important micro-nutrient sources, all fail to meet requirements. Research shows fetal reserves are highly variable and some calves have less than 25 percent of the trace mineral tissue reserves of their dams. Milk feeding cannot replenish these reserves and, when a calf is sick, reserves may deplete quickly. Although rich in vitamin A, colostrum is a poor source of D and E, and is deficient in several essential B vitamins as well as four essential trace minerals, including iron. Starter grain intake fails to meet basic micro-nutrient requirements until at least four weeks.

A gallon of milk provides only 1.4 mg of iron, which is just 3 percent of the established NRC minimum daily requirement. Iron deficiency symptoms include poor health, rough hair coat, reduced feed intake and poor feed conversion. Research shows that 5 to 8 percent of calves are born anemic and another 20 to 25 percent are borderline anemic. Research also shows no correlation between dam and calf in regards to fetal iron stores, so simply improving dry cow nutrition won’t necessarily help. Which of your heifers is the unfortunate one born anemic? Will you provide her adequate iron?

A meta-analysis of selenium concentration in milk also shows that 71.4 percent of milk samples fail to meet minimum selenium requirements when fed at one gallon per calf daily. Selenium is shown to improve thermo-regulation in calves, which is a particularly important point in winter.

Milk-fed calf research shows that fat-soluble vitamins increase white blood cell and antibody production, improve growth rate and feed conversion, and reduce incidence of ocular and nasal discharge and scours. Calf research also shows that vitamin C reduces scours, incidence of naval infection and respiratory disease, and improves antibody production, gain and feed conversion. B vitamin research in veal calves shows supplementation increases feed conversion and reduces severity of respiratory disease.

Your calves are counting on you to supply their basic nutrient needs. You can meet these nutrient requirements by supplementing your pasteurized whole milk.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care