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The Moo News

Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care                                                            December 2000

This past month, a farmer mentioned that his somatic cell counts (SCC) had dropped noticeably when he began using vitamin E. Of course it is well known that vitamin E is a good anti-oxidant (protects the cells from “rusting” prematurely). And it is valuable when complexed with selenium for good reproductive health (decreases retained placenta). So I decided to check on what some of the research has to say about this. Here are some of the facts:

A 1996 Ohio State University study showed an 80% decrease in mastitis incidence in the first 30 days of lactation when supplementing the diet of dry cows and just fresh cows. It was found that 1000 I.U./head/day for the 1st 46 days dry, then 4000 I.U./head/day for the last 14 days dry, then 500 I.U./head/day for 1st 30 days fresh gave this result compared to cows that had rations balanced for NRC requirements only.

Cows that were supplemented with 1000 I.U. daily for the entire 60 days dry and then 500 I.U. for the 1st 30 days fresh only showed a 30% decrease in incidence of mastitis. It was shown that at the 1000 I.U. level that any cows that did get mastitis had it for a 14% shorter duration.

Another study measured the economics of vitamin E supplementation on a 100 cow herd. Mastitis costs average $5600/yr, but with a 30% decrease in incidence, there would be a $1700 savings. With the cost of vitamin E to give the 30% decrease, its cost would be $600. This all would then give a net savings of $1100/yr.

How does vitamin E work in the udder? When the udder is invaded by E. coli or Staph aureus, immune cells called PMN’s migrate to the area to destroy the invading bacteria. It has been shown that there is better PMN function with vitamin E supplementation than in unsupplemented animals. A University of Vermont study showed an increased PMN migration to the udder due to an increased ability to cross the tiny blood vessel walls (capillaries). This was shown at rates of 3000I.U. of vitamin E daily for 4 weeks pre- and 4 weeks post-calving and one injection of 5000I.U. as compared to NRC balanced control cows.

It is known that there is a decrease in PMN and blood macrophage ability to mount an effective immune response following calving. But supplemented rations with 3000I.U. for the 4 weeks before and after freshening as well as one 5000I.U. injection kept all measured effective immune responses at pre-calving levels. Plasma vitamin E levels, that which is available to tissues, also remained the same.

Please talk with your nutritionist about your dry cow and fresh cow rations. Keeping vitamin E levels high can help reduce mastitis and somatic cell counts.


I will be away the afternoon of Wednesday Dec. 6th thru the evening of Thursday Dec.7th to give a talk to farmers in New York State. Please call either Dr. McCahon(610)269-0255 or Dr. Kilbourne(717)687-7421 (Paradise/B-I-H/White Horse area) or Dr. Troop(717)786-1303 (Quarryville/Bartville/Georgetown area)

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:

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