Most of you have probably walked into your local feed store and gotten a shock at how much prices have shot up in the last few months. A global vitamin shortage (particularly vitamin A) has set the feed industry on edge. This shortage is expected to continue well into 2018.

In beef cattle nutrition, we are most commonly concerned with supplementation of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. We are especially concerned during this time of year when access to green forages (which contain vitamin precursors) and the hours of access to sunlight are limited. It is now that supplementation of vitamins A, D & E will provide the most benefit to your herd. (See Table 1 for major functions and deficiencies in cattle).

Major vitamin functions and deficiencies in cattle. (adapted from Vitamin Stability in Premixes and Feeds A Practical Approach in Ruminant Diets. M. Coelho.)

There is a knee jerk reaction by many feed manufacturers to reduce vitamin levels in feeds and supplements to counter increasing prices. There is another instinct as well; stockpiling feeds, supplements or vitamin premixes to ride out this current shortage. Here are several reasons why that might not be a good idea.

Vitamins are very reactive biochemicals and quite sensitive to their environment. Fat soluble vitamins, particularly vitamin A, can be quite unstable and can quickly lose efficacy. Factors that influence stability include: temperature, humidity, reduction/oxidation (redox) reactions and light. Since vitamin A is in shortest supply right now, let’s focus solely on vitamin A for the remainder of this article.

Without going into a lot of detail about the chemistry of vitamin A, suffice to say that vitamin A is highly susceptible to oxidation. For this reason, vitamin A oil is typically emulsified and processed into a coated beadlet containing antioxidants that is either cross-linked or non-cross linked. Cross-linked beadlets are insoluble in water, further protecting the vitamin A.

How long commercial processed vitamin A retains efficacy is highly dependent on its physical and chemical environment. Tables 2 and 3 briefly give an overview of how various conditions affect the vitamin. So, what does this mean? If you purchase a vitamin premix, it will remain fairly stable over time. However, even this loses efficacy at roughly 1-2% per month. So, if kept for 6 months to a year, the vitamin bioactivity should be at roughly 80-90%, which is deemed acceptable. (One caveat to consider when purchasing though is how long the vitamin premix sat in storage prior to your purchase. Contact the manufacturer to get a manufacture date to be sure.) However, if one purchases a commercial mineral supplement containing vitamin A along with relatively high levels of trace minerals, storage conditions become more important and efficacy can decline much more quickly. How much more quickly gets complicated in a hurry, as humidity, length of storage, temperature and chemical reduction/oxidation reactions are major factors. Just know that in some situations, over half of your vitamin A activity can be gone after only 6 months of storage.

Level of relative stress on vitamins in feed processing (adapted from Vitamin Stability in Premixes and Feeds A Practical Approach in Ruminant Diets. M. Coelho.)

Average Vitamin A stability under varying conditions (adapted from Vitamin Stability in Premixes and Feeds A Practical Approach in Ruminant Diets. M. Coelho.)

With this in mind, stockpiling most commercial feeds or mineral/vitamin supplements to try to avoid rising vitamin prices and/or shortages doesn’t make a lot of sense. But here’s the good news, the unique manufacturing process used to make CRYSTALYX® low moisture blocks excludes moisture, oxygen and light except at the very surface. This means that the chemical environment is one that maintains vitamin A integrity better than other feed forms. Be assured that the vitamin A activity you pay for today will still be there 6 months or even a year from now. So, if you are in a position to purchase enough CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements for the next 3, 6 or even 12 months, you don’t have to worry about loss of vitamin activity.

CRYSTALYX® Brand Supplements offers a large variety of supplement products to help you find the right supplement for YOUR operation and cattle conditions.