Beef Cattle

Can I cut back on vitamin E?

With the recent spike in vitamin E prices affecting the cost of mineral/vitamin supplement products, many are now taking a hard look at their current supplement program — which begs the question:

Why is vitamin E added to supplements, and how much vitamin E is really necessary?



First, let’s discuss the functions of vitamin E in the body. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is directly related to fat digestion and plays a large important role in antioxidant activity in the body. Vitamin E works synergistically with selenium and is essential for immune, reproductive, muscular, circular and nervous function. Vitamin E and selenium play important roles in the body’s defense against bacterial and viral invaders, as well as in the protection against heavy metal toxicity.

Vitamin E is not stored in great quantities in the body, but it is present in all tissues, with most stored in the liver, fat tissue and muscles. Vitamin E doesn’t cross the placenta in appreciable amounts, making neonates highly susceptible to deficiency. Newborns rely heavily on colostrum as a source of vitamin E. Even though placental transport is minimal, newborns born to vitamin E-adequate dams contain higher fetal serum levels of vitamin E than those born to vitamin E-deficient dams. Research has shown that ewes fed supplemental vitamin E above the minimum recommended levels during gestation experienced decreased lamb mortality and improved lamb performance.

Fresh green forages are good sources of vitamin E. However, there is great variability from farm to farm, as drought, frost, mold and insect infestation can reduce levels of vitamin E, so forage testing is recommended. The act of harvesting hay naturally destroys vitamin E, and vitamin E also decreases with storage time. Wheat germ oil is the most concentrated natural source of vitamin E, but it can also be found in vegetable oils — soybean, peanut and cottonseed oils are particularly vitamin E-rich — and whole cereal grains (when the oil not removed). However, the stability of naturally occurring vitamin E is poor; heat, oxygen and moisture can promote oxidation, which destroys vitamin E. A reliable source of dietary vitamin E comes in the form of commercial mineral/vitamin supplements containing chemically stabilized vitamin E.

Vitamin E requirements are difficult to itemize because they depend upon a number of factors. An animal’s vitamin E needs may increase with the presence of unsaturated fats, oxidizing agents, vitamin A or gossypol in the ration. Vitamin E requirements can also increase if dietary selenium levels are deficient or if the animal experiences an increase in stress, an infection, exercise or tissue trauma. Numerous studies have found that vitamin E supplementation can improve the immune response, especially in stressed animals. The supplementation of vitamin E, in addition to selenium, has been shown to reduce incidences of retained placentas and metritis as well. There is also evidence that vitamin E supplementation positively affects semen and spermatozoa characteristics. And finally, vitamin E supplementation is purported to enhance performance in horses.

So, how much vitamin E is needed? While I’d love to be able to give you a definite number on this, it just isn’t possible. As stated earlier, it is incredibly difficult to isolate vitamin E requirements. Also, these requirements are based on the amount of vitamin E needed to prevent deficiency symptoms. Most experts recommend providing dietary vitamin E levels in excess of the requirements for improved immunity and performance. Additionally, while growing forages provide a good source of vitamin E, there aren’t reliable book values to use to calculate estimated vitamin E intake.

In summary, if you are evaluating whether to decrease the amount of vitamin E you supplement due to cost, take into consideration your production parameters:

  1. Are your livestock consuming older hay?
  2. Are they pregnant?
  3. Are your livestock under stress?
  4. Will you be breeding soon?

If any of the above are true, you should probably stick with your current levels of vitamin E supplementation — or even consider increasing them if you are experiencing problems. If your livestock aren’t experiencing any environmental, nutritional, transportation or disease stresses and are on lush, growing spring pastures, you may be able to successfully convert to a supplement containing lower vitamin E levels without any loss of production or performance.

Visit your local ULTRALYX dealer for more information on our available ULTRALYX products or call 1-888-718-3493 to speak to an ULTRALYX representative.