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The role of trace elements and vitamins in calves

Directly after their birth, many calves have a serious deficiency of vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

Milk feed alone often cannot provide sufficient nutrients.  Supplementary vitamin and minerals are therefore essential.  Which nutrients are involved and how do they affect the health and immunity of the calf?


Efficient conversion of nutrients

First and foremost, the calf needs certain substances to efficiently process its food.  The rearing target is to efficiently convert all the energy and proteins eaten by the calf, into growth. This requires the continuous production of enzymes which facilitate and control good digestion.

Copper, selenium, zinc and manganese are an essential component of many enzymes. These trace elements must therefore be supplied at an optimal (but not maximum) level!

Vitamin B’s are also essential for the effective use of enzymes. Efficient conversion of carbohydrates, protein and fats into growth requires close cooperation between enzymes and B vitamins. Adult cows generally produce enough of these B vitamins in the rumen, but this is not the case in young calves because the rumen is still developing. It is therefore essential that the B vitamins are provided, in order to make enough available.

In other words: B vitamins in combination with copper, selenium, zinc and manganese, form the basis for efficient growth.


Increasing immunity

Every calf is at risk of disease. Pathogens have less chance when there is a system of effective colostrum management, good follow-up with calf milk and hygienic operations. Furthermore, an optimum supply of vitamins and trace elements is essential in order to offer effective protection. Selenium, vitamin E and vitamin C are the most important immunity boosters, while copper, zinc and manganese also play a role. Their antioxidant effect supports the immune system.  If the calf becomes infected with a pathogen and its immune system fights back these protective substances help the clearing process; they are the lubricant in the fighting motor as it were.


Other components for growth

Vitamin A is important for development of a calf’s vision, while also contributing to basic growth and development because it plays a role in the maintenance of cell tissue.

Vitamin D is partially responsible for good bone development, as it forms an essential link in Calcium metabolism; insufficient vitamin D results in sub-optimal bone development and therefore sub-optimal growth. Iron plays an important role in the transport of oxygen and is therefore essential for healthy calf growth. Iodine is equally necessary. This trace element is vital for production of the thyroid hormone, which in turn determines the metabolic rate and thereby growth.


If you have any queries pertaining to this topic don’t hesitate to ask one of our veterinarians.