Beating Disease-Causing Stress Through Supplemental Nutrition

The value of nutrition in combating disease-causing stress that newly received feeder cattle must overcome has been reinforced by several recent research studies.


Researchers at Texas A&M and West Texas A&M have presented a good case that shipping and receiving stress causes a loss of antioxidant vitamins E and A. These antioxidants have been shown to be an important component of a healthy immune system in humans.

The studies shipped commingled southeastern feeders 1,300 miles to a west-Texas feedlot. One group was subjected to a simulated dusty environment by being housed inside a dust-filled tent after arrival. Regular blood tests showed that shipping stress reduced the level of vitamin E to almost one-fourth the level tested before shipping. The dust-stressed calves also showed lower levels.

Lead A&M researcher Norbert Chirase also found that as vitamin A and vitamin E levels in the blood fall, fever in the calves can be expected to rise. This suggests the diminishing level of antioxidants may be connected to an increase in respiratory disease, the number-one killer of feedlot calves.


If you provide newly-received calves with additional vitamin E in their diets, what effect will it have on their performance? That was the question researchers at New Mexico State and Texas Tech took on. They provided newly-received calves with up to 1,140 units of vitamin E per day. They found that the additional vitamin E increased the level of humoral antibodies that calves produced against an experimental inoculation. Cattle receiving the highest level of vitamin E also had a statistically significant lower level of repulls for treatment. The additional vitamin E did not make a significant difference in final feedlot performance, and there was no significant difference in disease level based on supplementation.

The vitamin E research echoed the A&M research findings that feedlot stressors interfere with uptake or utilization of vitamin E. Therefore, additional vitamin E might help light, stressed calves recover from respiratory disease.

Source: Journal of Animal Science, April, 2002.